I was walking on the beach early one morning last week.

I walk on the beach most days – but not early in the morning.

I was walking on the beach that morning to rekindle my connection to the great ocean of creativity.

My painting – and subsequently my blog - has been sleeping for a few months and I knew it was time now to stir that sleeping soul back into life.

A change of habit can freshen and awaken. Winter solstice had just passed. It was time now.

Half way along the beach, in front of my right foot, was a shell. It was a big shell. And it was an unusual shell.

Some beaches are great for finding washed up shells – but ours isn’t. We have lots of cockles, some pipi and tuatua, tiny spiral shells, the occasional paua and sometimes mussels. That’s it.

So this shell stood out. It was solitary on the sand just on the water line.

It was the type of shell I associate with the tropics – not here.

I reached down to pick it up. It would look great on my deck.


Then I realized it was alive. Someone was still living in there.

That put me in a quandary. Here was a special shell washed up right in my pathway on a special morning. But it was still alive and the tide was going out. If I left it there it would die either from dehydration or as some seagull’s breakfast. If I took it home, it would die on my deck.

I wasn’t comfortable with any of these options. So I left it there and took some time to walk, and think, and feel this quandary through. I walked to the end of the beach.

I took my time.


The shell was still there when I walked back.

I picked it up. It was beautiful. It was a full spiral and it filled the cup of my hand. The surface of the shell was slimy in texture.

I would take it to a rocky outcrop over the hill with rock-pools to rest in and access to the open ocean. 

As I walked with it to its new rocky refuge, I noticed something unexpected. Shells are usually brittle….shell-like. They are usually hard and crisp in texture. This one wasn’t. Under the slimy surface, this shell was soft to the touch. It was pliable. I could gently indent its edge and it would return to shape.

It was literally in the process of becoming itself. The shell spiral was still unfurling.

Gradually the dumpy foot was emerging from living body of the shell. It must have felt its future rock foothold getting closer.

This creature was alive and well. I dipped it in the ocean to re-hydrate. Then I delayed its rock-pool relocation a few more minutes while I took these photos.

As the sun shone through it, I discovered that not only was the shell soft, it was transparent. Diaphanous. And the outside growing edge was almost gelatinous.

The sunlight revealed layers of golden waves being laid down into form. It was growing itself. Invisible generative wave forms were being made visible. Movement was becoming matter.

I later learned that it was a Giant Tun (Tonna galea). Giant Tuns can grow up to 150 mm and this was more like 100 mm so it must be a young one.

I learnt that it is in the family of Prosobranch Gastropods – basically big sea snails - and that they usually live in more tropical waters.

The shell is gradually created by a part of the shell-snail body called the mantle that secretes conchiolin which forms the organic matrix within which calcium carbonate (the hard shell stuff) is deposited.

AND I learned that the Giant Tun is luminescent – something very rare in this family of shellfish.

This means it gives off light (green-white in this case) when it goes through the water with its foot extended.

So a young shell-making creature that gradually grows its own protective house from undulating wave forms, and that glows when it swims, washed up on the beach here that morning...a long way from home.

All power to you little soft shelled shining giant.

You are an inspiration. No painting here yet, but something is stirring.

Thank you for the visit.

When I was looking for info on the Giant Tun, I found this stunning Xray image of its underlying spiral structure. Form made from frozen energy.