Cabrillo Marine Aquarium
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White Abalone Spawning

Updated on 2/17/13: Researchers from northern and southern California will be meeting up on March 2, 2013 to collaborate on spawning the endangered white abalone in the Aquatic Nursery laboratory. CMA research staff will be working with young scientists and our collaborators from Bodega Bay and Santa Barbara to study early development of abalone and to raise white abalone in our labs. Come by between 10:00am-2:00pm to meet the research team and learn more about our efforts to eventually restock white abalone in the wild.

Original article published on 6/1/12:
Can people feel connected to a marine snail? Researchers in CMA's Aquatic Nursery are hoping the answer is a resounding yes, especially for the sake of the endangered white abalone or Haliotis sorenseni. There used to be more than 360,000 white abalone living off Southern California and the Baja California peninsula. Today, there are an estimated 15,000 left in the wild.

Where did all the white abalone go? "The white abalone tasted the best. It was overfished compared to other species because it was considered the prized catch," said CMA Research Curator Kiersten Darrow. "It was like the bluefin tuna of abalone; it was targeted."

Now the white abalone left in the wild are spread out over a vast area with only one or two living within every 100 acres. To reproduce, white abalone must live less than 10 feet apart because they broadcast spawn releasing eggs and sperm, which have to be close together to successfully connect in the water column. Alas, white abalone are considered to be reproductively extinct in the wild because there are too few living too far apart to reproduce. But thanks to the hard work of CMA and several other institutions there is still hope.

During 2006, CMA received 20 white abalone from NOAA to keep in captivity as part of a broader effort to save the species. Several white abalone were also given to Ty Warner Sea Center in Santa Barbara, Aquarium of the Pacific (AOP) in Long Beach and UC-Davis Bodega Marine Lab in Bodega Bay.

"When we received the animals our pledge was to raise awareness about white abalone, their history, and why they became endangered; to get people to care about white abalone," said Darrow. "During the last year, this role has expanded to include spawning white abalone in captivity, which is an exciting and important challenge."

By working in close collaboration with AOP and representatives from UC-Santa Barbara and UC-Davis, CMA staff attempted spawning white abalone twice: once on July 12, 2011 and a second time on May 24, 2012.

"In both cases we had at least one female successfully spawn, so we know that our stock of females is healthy because making eggs is energetically costly," explained Darrow. "If a female doesn't make eggs, then you know that your aquaculture techniques are probably not good."

Despite having healthy female abalone spawn, the males kept to their shells and seemed very unaffected by the whole process. "The hope was that whether we had sperm or eggs that AOP would have the complimenting gametes [eggs or sperm], and then we could just drive across the bridge, fertilize each other's gametes and then we would both have stocks to work with," said Darrow.

Unfortunately, this scenario hasn't worked. The first time only females spawned and the second time the timing was off between sexes. Yet, each time is a learning experience and CMA and AOP are not giving up; the plan is to try again in about six months. In the meantime, Aquatic Nursery staff will make sure the white abalone are well fed, well rested and more appreciated.

"Most people look at an abalone and think it's a rock, but it's actually a really cool marine snail that rears up when it smells seaweed and grabs the seaweed using its big fleshy foot to pull the seaweed into its mouth," said Darrow. "We need people to care about white abalone and support our work to save it from extinction."

Post Date: Sunday, February 17, 2013


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