Kellet’s whelk, Kelletia kelletii

About this species

Kellet’s whelk (Photo: Gerald and Buff Corsi © California Academy of Sciences)

Buccinidae, a family of large sea snails

Point Conception, California to central Baja California; the species appears to be moving north as water warms and especially during El Nino years


Kellet’s whelk can be easily identified by its large, white to tan spiral shell that is often covered with colorful algae. It is ne of the largest sea snails found in Southern California and can grow up to 18 centimeters long.

Habitat & Behavior

Kellet’s whelk occurs in kelp forests and rocky reef habitats (both on rocky, hard and sandy, soft substrates. They are carnivores that will actively pursue prey (e.g. turban snails) as well as feed on dead or dying organisms on the sea floor. They occur from 2 to 70 meters in depth and can be abundant in nearshore subtidal reefs.


This species is slow-growing, slow to mature, and is vulnerable to overharvesting because they aggregate seasonally in order to mate. However, Kellet’s whelk has been experiencing a steady increase in population size and has been identified by the California Department of Fish and Game as an emerging fishery.

About this map

The bright yellow areas in this map show reef habitat that is more suitable for Kellet’s whelk, while dark blue areas are less suitable. Researchers modeled suitability across all currently known reefs in the Southern California Bight (the dashed gray line shows the extent of the modeled area). The model has a spatial resolution of 200 meters and includes areas shallower than or equal to 45 meters deep.

Kellet’s whelk (Photo © Jonathan Williams)

Data source: Species distribution model derived from Zellmer et al. 2019 in Frontiers in Marine Science, 6. [link]

Acknowledgements: We would like to thank Amanda J. Zellmer for generously sharing this coastal marine biodiversity data.


  • Sea Grant California. “Kellet’s Whelk.” [link]
  • California Department of Fish and Game. August 2010. Status of the Fisheries Report. [download]