Celebrating 25 Years
Lecture Series

Free, virtual program, presented via Zoom

upcoming lectures

JUL 27

About the speaker: Rebecca Mensch completed her B.S. in Marine Biology from Florida Institute of Technology. She completed her Master of Applied Science with Honors from Auckland University of Technology. Her master’s thesis was on the taxonomy of the deep-sea squid genus Chiroteuthis. During her seven years with the Bailey-Matthews National Shell Museum, Rebecca has had a broad scope of responsibilities including designing and leading in-house and outreach educational programming, identifying and cataloging scientific specimens in the Research Collection, conducting research on the life history of local marine mollusks, curating and caring for the Museum’s live mollusk collection.

Supersized Squid

Join squid expert Rebecca Mensch as she presents about the Giant Squid and the Colossal Squid. For millennia the Giant Squid has captured the imagination and inspired tales of sea beasts such as the kraken. Because of the extreme depths these magnificent mollusks live in, many questions about these animals have gone unanswered until the last two decades. With recent advances in technology, many mysteries of these two extraordinary mollusks are finally beginning to be revealed, but there is still much to learn. Rebecca shares new findings and images to tell the unique story of the Supersized Squid.

By Rebecca Mensch, Senior Marine Biologist, Bailey-Matthews National Shell Museum 

AUG 24

About the speaker: Kenneth Sassaman is the Hyatt and Cici Brown Professor of Florida Archaeology at the University of Florida. He specializes in the Archaic and Woodland periods of the American Southeast, technological change, and community patterning. Since arriving in Florida in 1998, Ken spent most summers in the middle St. Johns River valley of northeast Florida, where he and his students investigated the region’s oldest shell mounds. In 2009 he launched the Lower Suwannee Archaeological Survey on the northern Gulf coast of Florida to investigate a record of maritime living that continues to be diminished by rising seas. Relating the experiences of indigenous coastal dwellers over the past 5,000 years to contemporary challenges of sea-level rise is among the project’s chief goals.

8,000 Years of Shells in the American Southeast: Archaeological Insights on the Ecology, Diet, Architecture, and Ritual of Ancient Native Americans

Ancestors of Native Americans began collecting freshwater shellfish in large numbers about 8,000 years ago. Marine shellfishing may have begun even earlier, but rising sea since the end of the Ice Age inundated the archaeological remains of coastal dwelling before about 5,000 years ago, when the rate of sea-level rise slowed. Beyond the value of shellfish meat to ancient diets, the inedible shells provided construction material for mounds, causeways, fish traps, and more. In addition, shells were valued as a ritual medium. Beads, gorgets, and ceremonial vessels made from shell attest to cosmological connections among water, earth, and sky, and between the living and the dead. This overview of 8,000 years of dwelling in the American Southeast explores the myriad ways that shell structured the histories of ancient Native Americans.

By Kenneth E. Sassaman, Hyatt and Cici Brown Professor of Florida Archaeology, University of Florida

About the speaker: Dan Killam, Ph.D. is a postdoctoral researcher at Biosphere 2, University of Arizona. He is a paleontologist specializing in comparing the geochemistry of fossil and modern mollusk shells. After completing his undergraduate degree in Environmental Studies at USC and a Ph.D. in Earth Science at UC Santa Cruz, Dan spent over a year studying bittersweet clams at the University of Haifa in Israel before beginning his current project culturing giant clams at Biosphere 2. Dan is passionate about conservation, natural history and science communication. In his free time, he enjoys hiking in the Tucson desert looking for creatures to post to iNaturalist, and at home hangs out with his cat, hermit crab and carnivorous plants.

Giant clams are special among bivalve mollusks in using symbiotic algae within their bodies to speed up their growth, like corals do, yet little is understood of how they will fare in the face of climate change and ocean acidification. To look into the future and explore these questions further, researcher Dan Killam is growing smooth giant clams in a 700,000-gallon coral reef tank of the Biosphere 2 in Arizona to understand how they manage to grow their shells so quickly. In the Biosphere 2 “ocean”, juvenile giant clams have more than doubled in size in just one year and will eventually reach two feet long. 

The controlled conditions of the Biosphere 2 ocean reef tank provide a perfect setting to explore and experiment. As with corals, the partnership between giant clams and their internal algae only works within a narrow range of temperatures and pH levels. As the oceans grow warmer and more acidic, this relationship will be put under stress, reducing their growth. In this talk, Dan will share insights from his groundbreaking research on the impacts of changing oceans on mollusks, featuring images and video of the singular Biosphere 2 facility. 

By Dan Killam, Ph.D., Biosphere 2,
University of Arizona


Why Am I Growing Giant Clams in the Middle of the Arizona Desert?

previous lectures

JUN 15

About the speakers: Kory Rogers is the Francie and John Downing Senior Curator of American Art at Shelburne Museum, in Shelburne, Vermont, where he oversees more than 100,000 works of art and design ranging from the 18th century to the present day. Kory’s professional interests include: the American circus, wildfowl decoys, English ceramics, 19th-century horse-drawn vehicles, 20th-century and contemporary furniture design, and of course seashells. Kory earned his M.A. in the history of American decorative arts from the joint program between Smithsonian Associates, Parson School of Design and New School University in 2003.

Jean M. Burks is Curator Emerita of Shelburne Museum, where, for 20 years, she was responsible for 18th-20th-century American and European decorative arts. Prior to this, she held Curatorial positions at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, Winterthur Museum, the National Museum of Play, and Canterbury Shaker Village. Jean received her M.A. in the history of decorative arts from the Smithsonian Institution/Parsons School of Design in New York City. After retiring to Sanibel, Jean spends her time shelling as well as volunteering on the beaches as a Shell Ambassador and in the Collections Department of the Bailey-Matthews National Shell Museum.

Artistic Adaptations:
2,000 Years of Seashells in Art

For Millenia, shells have provided artists with inspiration. Whether physically incorporated, stylistically interpreted or scientifically rendered, land and marine mollusks appear as important motifs or primary subject matter in diverse works of art. From Ancient Rome to Louis Comfort Tiffany, this program will explore the surprising interpretation of bivalves and gastropods in paintings, furniture, ceramics, glass, and metalwork historically. Accomplished art museum curators, good friends, and shell collectors and enthusiasts Jean Burks and Kory Rogers are the speakers for this program. This talk is the first of a short Artistic Adaptations series over the coming months that will also feature shells in adornment (jewelry and clothing) and architecture.

By Jean M. Burks, Curator Emerita, Shelburne Museum, and Kory Rogers, Francie and John Downing Senior Curator of American Art, Shelburne Museum 

Curator’s Choice: New Photographs of Extraordinary Shells, and the Digital Imaging Project at the National Shell Museum

JUN 29

Science Director and Curator Dr. José H. Leal presents a selection of exceptional images from the new exhibition In Focus: Precision Photography of Extraordinary and Uncommon Shells which recently opened at the Bailey-Matthews National Shell Museum and is on view through November 28th. Dr. Leal will discuss his choices of images, the different groups of species represented and their unique qualities, and special photographic techniques adopted to ensure a high level of richness and detail. He will also discuss the Digital Imaging Project, for which the photographs have been made, and its global scope and impact for scholars, scientists, and enthusiasts of shells and mollusks. For more information about the In Focus: Precision Photography of Extraordinary and Uncommon Shells exhibition, please click here.

About the speaker: José H. Leal, Ph.D. has worked for the Bailey-Matthews National Shell Museum since 1996 and is currently the Science Director and Curator. Dr. Leal received his PhD in Marine Biology and Fisheries from the University of Miami. He has served as an Assistant Editor for Sea Frontiers Magazine, a Visiting Professor at the Muséum National d'Histoire Naturelle, and Postdoctoral Fellow at the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of Natural History. Dr. Leal holds honorary faculty positions at the University of Miami and Florida Gulf Coast University, where he is an affiliate member of the Coastal Watershed Institute. He is also a past president of the American Malacological Society and of Conchologists of America, a past board member of the Florida Association of Museums, an Accreditation Peer Reviewer for the American Alliance of Museums, and editor of The Nautilus. It was through Dr. Leal's leadership that the Museum was awarded accreditation from the American Alliance of Museums in 2010.

By José H. Leal, Ph.D., Science Director and Curator, Bailey-Matthews National Shell Museum 

JUL 13

About the speaker: Melissa A. May, Ph.D. is an Assistant Professor of Marine Biology at Florida Gulf Coast University. She has been studying the effects of environmental stress, such as salinity, temperature, and food, on marine mussels and their larvae since 2010. She finished her PhD from the University of Maine in 2017 and, following a postdoctoral research fellowship at California Polytechnic State University, moved to Southwest Florida in August 2020. She since has begun an oyster monitoring program in Estero Bay and hopes to help better understand how oysters tolerate changes in their environment. Melissa is an avid marine invertebrate biologist and her favorite shelled animal is the lined chiton, Tonicella lineata.

Oysters: A Crystal Ball for Water Quality in Southwest Florida

Dr. Melissa May leads Florida Gulf Coast University’s oyster monitoring research program in Estero Bay. Oysters are mollusks and essential members of coastal water ecosystems. These shelled animals play an important role in the health of water, and their reefs provide homes and food for other marine animals. They act as indicators for declines in water quality or other stressors imposed on estuarine ecosystems and help to clean the water by filtering large volumes of water through their shells. Dr. May’s talk will focus on the range of threats to the health of oysters and other mollusks in Southwest Florida (in addition to freshwater releases from Lake Okeechobee), with an emphasis on her new research program in Estero Bay.

By Melissa A. May, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of Marine Biology, Florida Gulf Coast University