The Pinto Abalone is a shellfish almost extinct in the Northwest. For centuries, people harvested abalone at low tide. The meat was good to eat, and the abalone's iridescent shell made beautiful jewelry and inlay decoration.
This unusual creature's shell is oval and 2 to 6 inches across. The abalone clamps onto rocks and holds tight to resist predators and strong waves. Abalone are grazers. With a kind of tongue lined with tiny teeth called a "radula", they scrape algae off rocks. Adult abalone also eat kelp, giant seaweed floating close to shore.
On top of the abalone's shell there's a line of raised holes like tiny volcanoes. Oxygen-rich water comes in these holes; carbon dioxide and waste go out. The abalone has several kinds of tentacles too. Two have simple eyes, and others poke through the breathing holes to keep them clear.
When diving equipment was invented, collecting abalone became much easier. Because abalone reproduce and grow slowly, their population plunged - and continued to decline even after harvesting was prohibited almost 20 years ago. Today, the abalone population may be too small to recover on its own. Public agencies and private organizations in the Northwest are growing pinto abalone in tanks to plant in the wild and re-grow the population. This could work, but the biggest threat to the abalone may still be poaching - illegal collecting. If you see an abalone, don't collect it, and don't pry it off the rocks because abalone are easily injured. Report your rare sighting to the Department of Fish & Wildlife.