Top 5 New Year’s Resolutions for 2017 (if you’re a white abalone)

A 3-year-old white abalone peeks out from beneath its shell at UC Davis Bodega Marine Lab. (Photo by Kat Magana, UC Davis)

To kick off the new year, we thought we’d give our precious endangered white abalone some advice for surviving — and thriving — during their next trip around the sun.

White abalone are delicious marine snails that are nearing extinction because we ate too many of them — we fished 99% of them from the wild in just 10 years during the 1970’s. The few thousand that remain in the wild are so far apart from one another that they are unable to reproduce. The good news is that recent efforts to breed them in captivity have been incredibly successful, producing over 10,0000 new baby white abalone, and the future for this species looks bright as long as current efforts continue.

So, from the newly hatched larvae looking for a place to settle to the distinguished father of thousands who likes to tell salty sea stories to your tankmates, listen up! Here are our top 5 white abalone resolutions for 2017 in no particular order…

New Year’s resolution #1: Treat yourself.

It’s tough work carrying the fate of your entire species on the back of your shell. This is especially true when critters like clams, worms, and sponges love to live on your back and can make your shell brittle or open up space for infection. Lucky for you, California Department of Fish and Wildlife’s Shellfish Health Laboratory has the perfect spa indulgence for keeping your shell healthy in 2017. Their aromatic and exfoliating mix of organic coconut oil and organic beeswax in their specialized shell waxing treatment will give your shell a fresh start for the new year. Your fellow abalone are widely known for their superb interior decorating skills, which we humans often make use of in jewelry and musical instrument inlays, so once your shell is free from pests, make sure to shore it up with plentiful provisions of pearl.

An adult white abalone receives its annual shell waxing treatment that will eliminate pests living on its shell. This keeps the shell strong and healthy, which is especially important for captive white abalone that need to be handled for check-ups and reproduction. Some pests have been completely eliminated with this treatment! (Photo by Shauna Byron, UC Davis/CDFW)

New Year’s resolution #2: Eat well.

You love giant kelp. You really, really can’t get enough of it. It’s like a sugary, fluffy, Twinkie to you — full of calories, but without much nutritional value. Whether you’re a youngster that needs to grow big and strong in order to make it out in the wild or a mature matriarch that needs to produce lots of healthy eggs to fuel the next generation, you need to eat your superfoods! Start off the new year by gobbling down some delicious and proteinaceous dulse along with that tasty kelp — your foot, shell, and gonads will thank you.

A young white abalone stands on the back of its friend to reach for a blade of tasty seaweed. Just like for humans, a diverse diet helps abalone grow faster and produce healthier offspring. (Photo by Shelby Kawana UC Davis/CDFW)

New Year’s resolution #3: Get busy.

Science tells us that staying fit also means having a healthy sex life — something that’s even more important when your species is on the brink of extinction! So turn up that Barry White, play footsie with your favorite fellow snail, and spawn like your species depends on it. Trained scientists will be at the ready to offer matchmaking assistance and to give you the proper mood lighting and seawater chemistry to optimize your reproductive output.

A healthy female white abalone can spawn millions of tiny eggs out of a hole on the top of her shell called a respiratory pore. The eggs look like light-brown vanilla bean seeds. This white abalone is also sporting a recent shell waxing treatment. (Video by Shelby Kawana, UC Davis/CDFW)

New Year’s resolution #4: Move out.

It’s our hope that in 2017 some of you will consider leaving your cozy nursery tanks at UC Davis Bodega Marine Laboratory to move in with your friends at some of our partner institutions, or maybe even take your first dip back out in the ocean. You can’t save your species by staying at home forever with laboratory technicians to clean up after you. By exploring other seascapes, visitors to aquariums will get to watch you grow, you’ll help researchers understand what conditions make you thrive, and you’ll soon make it out into the wild to start reproducing on your own. “Adulting” can be fun — just ask the scientists that are helping to save you!

UC Davis Bodega Marine Lab scientists have transported 400 young white abalone to partner facilities throughout California over the past two years. The snails receive first-class treatment throughout the journey. (Photos by Kristin Aquilino, UC Davis)

New Year’s resolution #5: Celebrate you!

There are a lot of charismatic megafauna out there, but 2017 is the year to celebrate the diversity that makes our communities and ecosystems stronger. Marine invertebrates don’t often get the attention they deserve (despite noble efforts to change this), so boldly flash those beady black eyes and wave your cephalic tentacles in the air like you just don’t care. Brag about your historical and present-day importance to our culture and our economy. Show off your ecological superpowers that make our coastal ocean healthier. Wow people with the way a little effort and persistence can save your species, and encourage everyone you meet to enthusiastically proclaim, “Save white abalone!” loudly and often.

A 3-year-old white abalone gazes out from under its single shell. Its gills sit just beneath its respiratory pores on the top right, and its two beady black eyes sit on the end of short yellow stalks near the center. In between its eyes are two long, orange tentacles it uses for sensing its surroundings. The black area between the tentacles is its mouth, which has rows of rake-like teeth for scraping up the seaweed it eats. Behind the snail’s head is its large, muscular foot — the part we humans find super delicious! (Photo by Kat Magana, UC Davis)

Now that we’ve covered the top 5 New Year’s resolutions white abalone can follow to prosper in 2017, what can we humans do to help them? Here are our top 5 ways everyone can participate in saving white abalone…

1. Visit your neighborhood marine snails

Get to know your favorite sea snails by visiting a local aquarium. White abalone are currently on display at Aquarium of the Pacific in Long Beach, Cabrillo Marine Aquarium in San Pedro, and the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History Sea Center in Santa Barbara. Other abalone species, such as the iconic red abalone, are also at public aquaria throughout California and beyond! These are great places for learning about the importance of abalone to our coastal ecosystems, our culture, and our economy.

Left: Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History aquarists Tyler Haven and Tommy Wilson show off a young white abalone in front of their white abalone display. Right: These baby abalone “cradles” on display at Cabrillo Marine Aquarium are ideal for holding white abalone during their most sensitive first few months of life. (Photos by Kristin Aquilino, UC Davis)

2. Support sustainable seafood

The harvest of clean, sustainable, wild and farmed seafood is necessary to support our increasing global population and maintain the health of our oceans. There are many resources that can help you make good seafood choices, and the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch program is one of our favorites. Abalone aquaculture is generally accepted as highly sustainable, and many of the red abalone farms in California, such as The Cultured Abalone Farm in Goleta, The Abalone Farm in Cayucos, American Abalone Farms in Davenport, and Monterey Abalone Company in Monterey help contribute to white abalone restoration by sharing their expertise and their freshly harvested kelp.

Doug Bush, manager of The Cultured Abalone Farm in Goleta, CA, holds a stack of sustainably-raised, market-ready red abalone. (Photo by Kat Magana, UC Davis)

3. Report poaching

Poaching remains a major threat to all seven abalone species in the United States, as well as abalone throughout the world. Though recreational fishing for red abalone remains open in Northern California, it is estimated that one in eight red abalone is harvested illegally. White abalone are also threatened by poaching. If you’re in California and you suspect abalone poaching, call CalTIP at 1–888–334-CalTIP (888–334–2258).

Kristin Aquilino returns from diving for red abalone in Northern California. The recreational red abalone fishery is carefully regulated by California Department of Fish and Wildlife; however, poaching remains a threat to California abalone populations, particularly for those with low population numbers, like the white abalone. (Photo by Aaron Coffey)

4. Be heard

Tell your friends and family about why restoring white abalone is important to you, and contact your local, state, and federal representatives to voice your concerns about endangered abalone. The US Endangered Species Act is considered a global standard for preventing extinction, and it is threatened by some who underestimate its value to our nation.

Kristin Aquilino speaks to members of the Bodega Bay community at a local wine bar (left) and to US Congressman Mike Thompson and California Assemblymember Jim Wood (right) about the importance of abalone to our culture, economy, and coastal environment. (Photos by Steve Aquilino and the Office of Mike Thompson)

5. Consider giving

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration supports the baseline needs of the White Abalone Recovery Program, but we could do much more much faster with your help — and time is of the essence for white abalone, which will likely go extinct in the next 10–15 years without our efforts to restore them. Gifts to white abalone restoration can be made by clicking here or by check to “Bodega Marine Laboratory” with “white abalone” in the subject line mailed to:

Bodega Marine Laboratory
P.O. Box 247
Bodega Bay, CA 94923–0247

Team White Abalone wishes our precious white abalone and all of their wonderful supporters a happy and healthy New Year!

Find out whether our white abalone are adhering to their 2017 resolutions by following us on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

A portion of the amazing and dedicated White Abalone Recovery Team — a consortium of state and federal agencies, universities, aquariums, and aquaculture farms — with a newly collected wild white abalone. (Photo credit: Perry Hampton, Aquarium of the Pacific)

Thanks to white abalone fans @Fairbairn_Ellie, @priyology, and @Bwalk0220 for helpful comments on this post.