Eight species of abalone can be found on the West Coast of North America (red, pink, black, green, white, pinto, threaded, and flat). Note that the pinto and threaded abalone may be considered the same species but different subspecies.
Abalone species ranges on the West Coast of North America. The pinto and threaded may be considered the same species but different subspecies and integrate in the area of Central California between the ranges shown in this map. (Map from NOAA, ranges added by author indicating each species' concentration, not full range.) Visit Daniel Geiger's wonderful ABMAP site for the most recent geographical information at: http://www.vetigastropoda.com/ABMAP/text/worldmap.html .
Abalone have been used in this area since man was first here. The native Americans ate the abalone meat, used the whole shells as bowls, pieces of the shells for fish hooks, scrapers, beads, necklaces and decorations, and even bartered with the shells.
Red abalone outside of shell (left) and inside of shell (right).
Red abalone shell margin.
Red abalone, Haliotis rufescens, are the largest abalone in the world, up to 12.3 inches in shell diameter. This was the main species that was harvested in the California abalone fishery – which no longer exists. It is also the species upon which most of the mariculture interest has been focused both by public and private groups.
Pink abalone outside of shell (left) and inside of shell (right).
Pink abalone shell margin.
Pink abalone, Haliotis corrugata, have a highly corrugated shell margin. Because of this they have an alternate name, the corrugated abalone.
Black abalone outside of shell (left) and inside of shell (right).
Black abalone shell margin.
Black abalone, Haliotis cracherodii, rarely have anything growing on the shell and are often intertidal. Adults have a wide tolerance for various temperatures. This species was the least desired of the North American abalone for food. They are a little tougher and lack the pure white solid part of their meat. With the removal of the sea otter (a major predator on abalone) in southern California during the early 1900s this species could be found stacked on top of each other in the tidepools of southern California until hard hit by disease in the 1980s.
Green abalone outside of shell (left) and inside of shell (right).
Green abalone shell margin.
Green abalone, Haliotis fulgens, are restricted to southern Califonia and Baja Mexico. Its interior is prized by jewelers for its beautiful blue-green luster.
White abalone outside of shell (left) and inside of shell (right).
White abalone shell margin.
White abalone, Haliotis sorenseni, may have the smallest population on the West Coast of North America. It has one of the most tender and flavorful meats of all the abalone species. Currently this species is being maricultured for seed to be placed in the ocean in hopes of bringing this species back to safe population levels.
Pinto abalone outside of shell (left) and inside of shell (right).
Pinto abalone shell margin.
Pinto abalone shells lined up to show diversity of color.
Pinto abalone, Haliotis kamtschatkana, are one of the northern abalone. They have a relatively thin shell and were rarely fished due to their smallish size. NOTE: Threaded abalone are usually regarded as a subspecies of the pinto abalone and given the name Haliotis kamtschatkana assimilus while the pinto abalone is Haliotis kamtschatkana kamtschatkana.
Threaded abalone outside of shell (left) and inside of shell (right).
Threaded abalone, Haliotis assimilis, have a unique genetic characteristic found in 5-10% of the population where there is an orange band running parallel to the open holes. This has nothing to do with feeding. (More uncommonly, the pinto ab may have this band.) NOTE: Threaded abalone are usually regarded as a subspecies of the pinto abalone and given the name Haliotis kamtschatkana assimilus while the pinto abalone is Haliotis kamtschatkana kamtschatkana.
Flat abalone outside of shell (left) and inside of shell (right).
Flat abalone shell margin.
Flat abalone shells lined up.
Flat abalone, Haliotis walallensis, have a flat shell and are often located in the far reaches of cracks and crevices making them difficult to see. They prefer cooler water than many of the other species and thus are a more northern species. This species is rarely collected for food as it is relatively small.
# of open holes
outside of shell
inside of shell
green to red
olive green to brown
lacy, green to brown
red to brown
white and pink
green-brown with white and blue
green with red, white, or brown spots
red with white, blue and green
Table information from California State Department of Fish and Game, Marine Resources Leaflet No. 11
Several characteristics can be used to tell the eight abalone species apart. These include the number of open holes, the color of the outside and inside of the shell, the shape of the shell margin, the presence or absence of a muscle scar, the color and description of the epipodium, and the color of the epipodial tentacles.
South Pacific abalone - outside of shells (left) and inside of shells. Shells are Australian black lip abalone (Haliotis rubra), Australian green lip abalone (Haliotis laevigata), and New Zealand's paua (Haliotis iris).
Abalone species live in temperate areas all over the world. They share similar shell and body characteristics but each species is unique. Somewhere around 68 species exist worldwide – all found in rocky habitats. Most abalone can be used to make inlay jewelry because of the beautiful mother-of-pearl inside the shell.