(Santa Barbara, Calif.) A single white abalone female named Abigail, kept alive in a tank at the University of California, Santa Barbara, is the only one of her kind in captivity -- and she needs a male sexual partner.
White abalone have been nearly decimated since they were overfished in the last two decades, so scientists at UC Santa Barbara are beginning a captive breeding program similar to those that have been used to replenish imperiled species on land.
The mollusks reproduce by broadcasting their eggs and sperm into the seawater, and for fertilization to occur, the spawners need to be within three feet of a member of the opposite sex to effectively reproduce. "No neighbors means that the remaining animals are effectively sterile," said Kevin Lafferty, assistant professor of marine biology at UC Santa Barbara, and marine ecologist for the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS).
Unfortunately, overfishing has left the few remaining pockets of white abalone too far apart from each other to reproduce effectively. Since abalone are slow-moving creatures confined to a small area for their entire life, they need help in getting reestablished.
A multi-agency consortium to restore the white abalone had success last weekend when divers located a healthy bed of reproducing white abalones, located in the Tanner Banks, about 50 miles away from San Clemente Island. Until now most of the few remaining animals that have been located in the wild were too far apart from each other to reproduce.
The fishery for white abalone was closed in 1996. In 1997, the National
Marine Fisheries Service made the abalone a candidate species for federal
listing under the Endangered Species Act. Thus, the white abalone could become
the first marine invertebrate to be granted that level of protection.
"People thought it was impossible to take such a fecund animal -- a
single female can produce 10 million eggs in a season -- and
Contact: Gail Brown
University of California - Santa Barbara