UC Davis Today: Saving endangered white abalone

  • Woman and man leaning on rail at ocean side with waves showing in the background

    Postdoc Kristin Aquilino, left, and Bodega Marine Lab Director Gary Cherr are on the quest to help an endangered marine mollusk survive.

  • Hand holding an abalone shell showing the foot underneath

    Their research team is conducting a captive breeding program for the white abalone.

  • Lab shot with a woman in the background and tanks with blue hanging wires

    Abalone of various ages are raised in tanks of filtered ocean water outfitted with lamps that mimic Southern Californian daylight hours.

  • A blue background with several black circles surrounded by a gelatinous covering

    The abalone start as newly fertilized embryos, seen here through a microscope.

  • Tiny abalone floating in the water with algae

    By 18 days, the juvenile abalone feeds on microalgae.

  • Two small abalone mollusks hanging on to a PVC pipe

    Juvenile abalone, shown at 9 months old, can be found in the lab tanks hanging underneath PVC pipes for shade.

  • A hand holding a an abalone over a tank

    By the time white abalone have been in captivity for 1 to 1½ years, they are considered adults and ready to reproduce.

  • Three white abalone showing their feet

    The UC Davis research team believes this captive breeding program may be the last chance to save the white abalone from extinction.

Abalone matchmaking

Hand holding kelp with a juvenile abalone

Video by Joe Proudman
(1 min 50 sec)

Saving endangered white abalone

In research that incorporates food, sex and danger, scientists at UC Davis Bodega Marine Laboratory have achieved the first successful captive spawning of the endangered white abalone in nearly a decade.

The work may be the white abalone’s last chance at avoiding extinction.

White abalones have the bad luck of being both reportedly delicious and difficult to breed. Broadcast spawners, they reproduce by releasing their eggs and sperm into the water.

UC Davis Bodega Marine Laboratory is leading the field with a white abalone captive breeding program, which began in 2010.

Researchers encourage the mollusks to breed in an advanced facility that allows scientists to use mood-setting enhancements, like optimum lighting and temperature controls, to cue the abalones to reproduce.

“We’re at a desperate time because all of the population models suggest that white abalone will be completely extinct within 10 to 15 years if we don’t have some sort of program like this for placing them back into the wild and trying to restore these populations,” says Gary Cherr, director of the UC Davis Bodega Marine Laboratory and principal investigator of the captive breeding program.

Year-old juvenile abalone find shade under PVC pipes in the laboratory sea water tanks. Photos by Karin Higgins and Kristin Aquilino, both of UC Davis.

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