Nudelman family gives vast shell collection to Burke museum

Staff reportAugust 25, 2013 

Washington State Parks holds its Shellfest event at locations around Western Washington. Quincy is home to the annual Shellfish Festival, held each fall. Now, thanks to a recent donation, the Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture can hold Shellpalooza if it choses.

The museum earlier this year, received a donation of 100,000 shells representing about 24,000 species and sub-species. The shell collection was donated by Dr. Phillip and Sandra Nudelman of Bellevue, said a museum news release.

The collection includes species from around the world. While species include mollusks from the Pacific Northwest and the Mediterranean, the majority of specimens come from the Indo-Pacific region, many from Hawaii.

The collection is comprised of mostly marine gastropod snails, it also includes land shells, chitins, and clams. The shells, which have both aesthetic and research value, are currently being sorted and catalogued into the Burke Museum’s malacology collection.

“Phil and Sandra’s donation is an extraordinary gift to both the Burke Museum and researchers alike,” Dr. Liz Nesbitt, Burke Museum curator of invertebrate and micropaleontology, said in a news release. “The shells are a comprehensive record of the biodiversity of one important group of animals. As climate changes occur and environments deteriorate, we now have a baseline of what mollusk diversity was in the western Pacific region.”

Phillip Nudelman’s lifetime of collecting began at a very early age, along the Washington and Oregon coast.

“But I didn’t really get serious about collecting data with the shells until I attended the University of Washington and majored in zoology,” he said in the release.

As important as the shells themselves is the amount of information the Nudelman family collected on the specimens. Collection dates, locations and other notes provide important context for researchers.

After retiring as the president and CEO of Group Health in 2000, Nudelman turned his attention to organizing the shells, describing them and inputting their associated data into a database he created. During the past 13 years, he has added approximately 7,000 specimens to the database. Another 15,000-20,000 species, subspecies, and forms with detailed data are yet to be inputted.

The Nudelman’s donation includes the database, which the museum will use to help make the data on the shells accessible. Visitors can view some of the specimens in the collection Saturdays and Sundays in December as part of the Burke’s fish and shell-themed Weekend Activities.

The museum is located on the University of Washington campus, at the corner of Northeast 45th Street and 17th Avenue Northeast. For more information, call 206-543-5590 or visit

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