Endangered white abalone successfully bred in North Bay lab

July 24, 2013 12:00:00 AM PDT
An effort is underway to save an endangered species to the south. It involves bringing the creature to the North Bay.

When dealing with marine biology, scientific achievements, or even miracles, can come in small sizes.

Tiny white abalone, still young, will someday grow up to be big, healthy, and hopefully no longer an endangered delicacy.

"They're delicious, I hear, I've never tasted one," said UC Davis Bodega Marine Laboratory postdoctoral scholar Kristin Aquilino, Ph.D.

But tasting success is another matter for Aquilino. On Wednesday, she and colleagues at the Bodega Marine Lab showed off how, after ten years of trying, they successfully bred white abalone. No small task.

"The challenge was getting them to reproduce in captivity, to create babies in captivity," she said. When asked what's so hard about that, Aquilino answered, "They didn't want to."

The question is what causes these abalone to reproduce. They know the trigger is a combination of food, light, and temperature. But in what amount?

"Well, once we have enough of these young that we can experiment with, we're going to put them and manipulate them each individually and see which one an effect on production," said Bodega Marine Lab Director Gary Cherr, Ph.D.

As of now, the lab has 125 specimens. They range from tiny hatchlings that are barely as large as the tip of a pen, to one which is about a year old, to fully grown adults.

The problem is sport diving has left them so few and far between in the waters of Southern California, that reproduction has become next to impossible.

To survive, the white abalone needs numbers. And once they get the process down to more efficient science, this lab can produce them.

"I think the vision is that within the next five year, to start producing tens of thousands of these young animals to repopulate the ocean off Southern California," Cherr said.

Imagine that -- saving an endangered ocean species by breeding them in tanks.


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