The dog conch (Strombus canarium) is known locally as the gong-gong for some reason. A once common mollusc, this marine snail is now confined mainly to the offshore islands such as Pulau Hantu and Chek Jawa off Pulau Ubin. Their scarcity may be in part due to a prevalent taste for their flesh, which is said to be very sweet and usually prepared steamed and served with a spicy sauce or fried as fritters. But the greater cause of their decline is probably the simple loss of suitably muddy shores and sheltered lagoons along the coast of the main island, a development that is likely to progress onto the offshore isles in good time.
The gong-gong is a fairly small creature, as far as conches go. Their relatives, such as Strombus goliath, can get to over a foot in length. In the same family is the spider conch (Lambis lambis), which many people seem to prefer dead and dried on their display shelves than alive and crawling on the reef. In suitable habitat, gong-gongs are not uncommon but they can be hard to spot as the upper part of their shells is often covered in debris such as algae. But turn them around and the pearly shell is revealed, along with a beady pair of curious eyes on stalks that peer with unhurried gazes. In most gastropods (aka snails), the operculum is that hard part of the body used to plug the shell opening (aperture) when the animal retreats for shelter from enemies. Conches have added a serrated end to their operculum that allows the snail to 'leap' from the bottom like a pole vaulter to escape active predators. But even this ability is too meagre a skill to assure survival in this age when more abstract shells in vivid red and yellow have a greater claim on finite shores than creatures that crave nothing but to crawl in contentment.