Maryland Traditions Folklife Area
photo courtesy of the Ward Museum of Wildfowl Art, Salisbury University
Michael Whidbee is a champion oyster shucker from the Eastern Shore of Maryland. He was born and raised in Crisfield and continues to reside in the bayside town. Like many of the people who grew up in the Crisfield area, he learned to pick crabs at an early age - in his case, by watching his mother and observing the techniques she used. Oysters, though, are where he found his line of work, which he has been pursuing for 12 years. Similar to how he learned crab picking, Whidbee was first exposed to oyster shucking by observing his stepfather. In 2009, Whidbee won the oyster-shucking contest at the National Hard Crab Derby in Crisfield. He currently works in the packing house at Metompkin Seafood.
Oyster shucking is an important part of the occupational and maritime traditions of the Chesapeake region. It has existed as long as people have eaten oysters. The techniques and practices have remained relatively static; a hammer, short-bladed knife, and stone block are the only tools that are required to separate the oyster meat from the shell. While the tools may be simple, the techniques and skills associated with oyster shucking take years to master.
Michael Whidbee is an experienced presenter of the oyster-shucking tradition, having participated in the National Hard Crab Derby in Crisfield and the Delmarvalous Festival in Salisbury. Whidbee brings both a skillful hand at shucking an oyster and a strong association with the working traditions of the Chesapeake to bear on heritage interpretation.