Creature Feature: Amazing Abalone

Alright, let’s get straight to the point about Abalone. When you read that word, most likely you think about a great Abalone dish you’ve had in the past. In my research for this article, I kept coming across recipes on how to cook the little buggers. In fact, one of my Abalone textbooks had several recipes at the back of the book.

So, let’s face it, Abalone aren’t known entirely as the natural wonders of the ocean but rather for their delectable meat. And, I’m guessing that most divers don’t know much about these critters beyond that.

Well, here’s a tasty morsel of information. Abalones are hemophiliacs. If they’re cut, there is no clotting mechanism within their bodies to prevent them from bleeding to death. How’s that for a show-stopping amazing fact?! But wait, there’s more! Abalone are actually a type of marine snail. Who would’ve guessed? They have a soft body with a hard shell and are classified as mollusks.

Abalones are marine snails belonging to the genus Haliotis. They are represented by 80 to 100 species worldwide. Approximately 15 to 17 species are commercially important throughout the world.

The shell interior of Abalone is iridescent mother-of-pearl. However, the make-up of Abalone shells varies considerably with species. Some species have a shell that is thin and flat while others have shells that are thick and undulating. The number of openings also varies with species. These holes serve as an opening for waste as well as circulating water over the gills. Their soft bodies are creamy white in the center, mottled orange on the sides, and a deeper orange on the bottom of the foot. Typically Abalone occur in colder waters with rocky bottoms, which usually means a kelp bed.

Abalone are vegetarians (herbivores) and subsist entirely on kelp and other seaweeds. In order to scrape algae from rocks they use a radula, which is an organ with many sharp teeth. Abalone also feed by trapping overhanging kelp fronds. They accomplish this by raising the front section of their body and extending their foot forwards. When seaweed washes against their body they then clamp down on the seaweed and trap it. The strength of adhesion of the foot to the seaweed is quite strong and necessary in waters with high currents. Once an abalone has trapped a drifting frond of kelp, it becomes more easily available to its neighbors, and often one frond is trapped and fed upon by a number of Abalone.

Reproduction in the Abalone world happens by means of broadcast spawning. What this means is that males and females congregate in groups, release their sperm and eggs into the water column simultaneously and hope that conception occurs! Another amazing critter factoid is that each and every female is equipped to release up to 3 million eggs at one time! Something to remember when diving in a kelp forest around the month of August! When the eggs have been fertilized they settle onto the seafloor after approximately seven days. Sexual maturity occurs after three years, and the whole cycle starts over again.

Abalone are slow growing, taking from 8 to 9 years to reach the minimum legal size at which they can be collected. This ensures at least a few years of broadcast spawns before they become dinner!

So, hopefully you’ve come away with a few facts to chew on the next time you come across one of these little critters.