Sunday, August 4, 2013

An Adventure with a Giant Clam

In snorkeling around the anchorage at Rongerik, we found more big giant clams than we have ever seen. In French Polynesia and everywhere west, you do see them, but they are small--4 to 6 inches across.

On the little patch reef right next to us, we found 3 GIANT clams--each 3-4 FEET across. There were also a lot of smaller ones laying about in the sand. So many that I felt OK with taking one to eat. I picked the smallest one I could find--about 10" across--to take back to the boat. When they're just chilling on the reef, their clamshell is open and their mantle is hanging out. They look like the meat is too thick to be able to close up all the way. Poking them gently while snorkeling, I've only ever seen them half shut. It looks like a huge amount of meat. But I had been told that once you clean it, there isn't much meat left over.

By the time I snorkeled mine back to the boat, I had dropped it a few times underwater, and frightened it enough that it was closed tight. So the first step was figuring out how to get it open. I really wanted the shell to keep, too, so I didn't want to bash it open. What to do... what to do? I finally left him in a bucket in some water until he opened up a bit. I tried to sneak up on him and put my oyster knife down in there sideways to keep him open, but wasn't fast enough. He closed on the blade. So I put him in a big ziplock bag (with the oyster knife still stuck in) and put him in the freezer.

The next day, he was much more cooperative! Since I had left the oyster blade jammed in, it was possible now to twist it a bit and get a filet knife down inside the shell and cut the muscle from the shell. Then it opened easily. But I was surprised to find that the mantle was now only about half there. Apparently the big meaty looking mantle that is there when they are open on a reef, is mostly water (which, I found out later, had ended up leaking out of the ziplock bag and draining into the bottom of my freezer!).

So half of the expected meat was already gone. Then, when you separate the guts out, that's another third. The other two thirds of what was left, I separated into 2 small piles--the big muscle, and what was left of the mantle. I nibbled on the muscle, and it looked and tasted like a scallop. I kept that. A nibble on the mantle produced an "Eeewwww". The mantle looked and tasted like leather. I discarded that. So from football-sized giant clam, I ended up with a piece of edible muscle 1-inch in diameter and about 3-inches long. It was good, but as I had been told, not much meat for what you start with. Later one of the islanders told us that they do eat the mantle. They mince it up and make "clam chowder" out of it!! (But it still looks a little repulsive).

We were told that the world record Giant Clam lives somewhere in the Rongerik lagoon--7 feet across.

P.S. Another Giant Clam adventure: Westward II, on pulling their anchor the last day at Bikini, had found a 2-foot clam clamped on to their anchor chain. It took them about 15 minutes of pushing and prying, and finally bashing it with a crowbar, before they could get it off.

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