The oyster champions of the world

A new attempt to break the Guinness oyster shucking record, by the numbers

The oyster champions of the world
Samson Learn
Janet Hardy Callaghan demonstrates her shucking amazing technique

Year a French team set the Guinness World Record for oyster shucking, when 10 people opened 8,472 oysters in an hour. If that team was serving Colin Shirlow, who holds the record for eating 233 oysters in three minutes, Shirlow would have to nearly double his pace to keep up.

Year the PEI town of Tyne Valley held its first oyster festival, starting an annual summer tradition that has become a destination for all things oyster, from the Canadian shucking championship to the Miss Oyster Pearl pageant. Last winter, fest president Jeff Noye served notice with the Guinness organization that an attempt would be made on the shucking record at this year's festival, the 50th.

Oysters shucked by Halifax nurse Janet Hardy Callaghan in a five-minute warm-up before the world record attempt, in the Tyne Valley rink Thursday, July 31. A PEI native whose father is oyster farmer Leslie Hardy, Callaghan was Noyes' first pick and the only woman to join him on the team of shucking champions from around the country.

Minutes of shucking for a record isn't a long time when you're in it. "The hour went by very quickly," Callaghan says. "That was the most focused I've ever been in my life." (Did we mention she's an intensive care nurse?) For an oyster to count, Guinness requires that the top half of shell be removed completely, leaving the meat in the lower shell. Shuckers insert their knife tip to pry open the oyster, then cut the adductor muscle where it grips the shell, so the shell can be discarded, before moving onto the next oyster. Or as Callaghan puts it: In, off, in, off, in, off, in, off...

People supported the shucking team, three at each shucker's table. One person got the unopened oysters ready for the shucker, one put the opened oysters in tidy rows on a counting table, the third counted their shucker's tally under the watchful eye of Guinness World Records adjudicator Philip Robertson, a dry Londoner born in Scotland and living in New York. Instead of asking the Tyne Valley people to send in a video of their effort, Guinness sent the worldly Robertson to PEI, adding an air of excitement to the proceedings in the spectator-filled rink. Certainly the shuckers took it seriously. Callaghan is a fit person, but she was uncharacteristically dripping with sweat during the hour. "My counter needed to wipe my forehead," she says, sounding like a TV doctor during an intense operation. (You caught that, right, that she's actually an intensive care nurse? For his day job, adjudicator Robertson is a fashion photographer.)

Age when Callaghan entered her first contest for oyster grading, the art of sorting oysters by size (small, medium, large) and grade (choice for best-shaped shells, standard for the rest), and thus setting the price for an oyster farmer's haul. She placed first, enhancing her credibility when she worked grading for her father. In other highlights from Callaghan's competitive history, in her second Canadian shucking contest she finished third overall, the highest a woman has ever finished. And she was once a Miss Oyster Pearl runner-up.

Blisters Callaghan got on the palm of her hand during the world record attempt. She thought a chunk of shell had worked its way inside her glove, but when she pulled it out she discovered it was a piece of skin.

Official Guinness plaques Robertson brought from New York to Tyne Valley, planning to only award one—either the plaque commemorating a failed attempt to break the record, or the plaque certifying a new record.

Moment of suspense, when Robertson announced the final counts in the rink. First he gave the count for nine of the 10 shuckers: 7,726 oysters, well shy of the French mark from 2002. That included 733 by Callaghan and 1,047 from Toronto's Eamon Clark, who would go on to win the Canadian shucking contest the next day. Then Robertson gave the score for the final shucker, Patrick McMurray, whose 1,114 oysters were the most shucked by any member of the team.

Total oysters shucked. The new world record. And the crowd went wild.

About The Author

Kyle Shaw

Kyle is the editor of The Coast. He was a founding member of the newspaper in 1993 and was the paper’s first publisher. Kyle occasionally teaches creative nonfiction writing (think magazine-style #longreads) and copy editing at the University of King’s College School of Journalism.

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