Maureen Kelly was enjoying a half-dozen raw oysters with a friend at a Virginia Beach restaurant on Memorial Day when she bit down on what she thought was a broken shell. Upon closer inspection, the hard object was a near-round natural pearl, about the size of a Red Hots candy.
Ocean House Waterfront Seafood Restaurant served hundreds of oysters during the holiday weekend. “I got the lucky one,” Kelly told The Virginian-Pilot.
How lucky was Kelly? Well, according to Beth Firchau, curator of Fishes for the Virginia Aquarium & Marine Science Center, the odds of finding a pearl this way are one in 10,000 to one in 12,000, depending on the mollusk.
The timing of Kelly’s story couldn’t be more perfect because June’s official birthstone is the pearl.
Natural pearls are organic gems, created by a mollusk totally by chance, without human intervention. When a foreign irritant gets into the mollusk’s shell, the bivalve secretes layer upon of layer of nacre to protect itself. Over time, the layering of iridescent nacre produces a pearl.
Cultured pearls, by comparison, are grown under controlled conditions, where a bead is implanted in the body of the mollusk to stimulate the secretion of nacre.
The oyster that yielded the Kelly’s pearl was harvested on the Chesapeake Bay side of Virginia’s Eastern Shore. The region produced more than 405,000 bushels of oysters in 2013, a huge increase from the all-time low of 17,600 bushels in 1996.
Kelly, who is a licensed professional counselor, told The Virginian-Pilot that she planned to attach the pearl to a seashell necklace and wear it proudly to work.
About two years ago, Pamela Levi was enjoying an oysters Rockefeller pizza 400 miles away in Columbia, S.C., when she crunched down on a similar pearl at Goatfeathers restaurant. At first, she thought she had broken a tooth, but soon discovered a round, white natural pearl.
“Very ladylike,” Levi joked about attempting to extract a foreign object from a mouthful of food. “I’m trying to take this [pearl] out of my mouth. It was round, so it kinda felt like a BB.”