What are Geoducks?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Geoducks are large clams which are native to the shorelines of the Pacific Northwest. The shellfish are also marketed as “king clams” or “elephant trunk clams,” in a reference to their impressive size and distinctive siphons, which can reach three feet (one meter) in length. In addition to being consumed in the Pacific Northwest, geoducks are also exported to China and Japan, where they are a popular delicacy. It can sometimes be difficult to find the clams at the market, since they are hard to harvest, and they tend to be expensive.

Woman posing
Woman posing

The name comes from the Lushootseed Native American language, and it means “dig deep,” suggesting that the Native Americans also struggled with harvesting geoducks. Incidentally, the name is pronounced “gooey duck,” in defiance of the spelling. If you prefer to be more formal with your meals, you can call a geoduck a Panope generosa.

The distinguishing feature of a geoduck is its long siphon, which the clam uses to filter plankton and other food sources. The siphons look alarmingly like a private portion of the male anatomy, especially after harvesting, when the shell of the clam may be removed so that the siphon and body can be cleaned. The siphons have a slightly crunchy texture and they are very savory; they can be eaten raw like sashimi, or they may be steamed, fried, sauteed, or boiled, depending on personal taste.

Geoducks are classified as soft-shell clams, which means that they have thin, brittle shells which can easily be broken. Because the long siphons cannot be fully retracted, the clams spend their lives with their shells open, burrowed deep into the mud of intertidal zones. The clams are very good diggers, which can be extremely frustrating for people interested in hunting and eating them. Harvesting geoducks requires the assistance of a large shovel and quick hands, so that the clams can be dug up and removed from the mud before they burrow even deeper. As a common courtesy, clam diggers are expected to fill in their holes when they have finished gathering clams.

Assuming it isn't harvested, a geoduck can live around 150 years, making these animals among the longest lived in the world. It is not unusual to see geoducks weighing five pounds (a little over two kilograms) or more. Some biologists have raised concerns about geoduck harvesting, as they fear that the clams could be in danger from over-harvesting. In the state of Washington, geoducks are farmed to address this issue.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments


Mature geoducks actually have a tiny foot and don't dig at all. They can't. Their shell may be 3' down and you have to chase the neck down to get the whole clam out, but it's certainly not digging/burrowing. Still worth the effort and very tasty!

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