Learn About Abalones & Relatives

map showing distributions of 8 species of abalone Haliotis on the west coast of North AmericaThere are 8 species of abalones on this coast. They were once abundant but, owing to their large size, ease of collection from shallow waters, tastiness, and high market value, they have been largely overfished – some to alarmingly low levels. White and black abalone are endangered species, while pink and green are at great risk. Commercial fishing for abalone Haliotis kamtschatkana in B.C. has been closed since 1990 and that for H. rufescens south of San Francisco, California since 1997. Currently the only legal fisheries on the west coast is a recreational skin-diving one in northern California for red abalone that is closely regulated. Poaching is common for most or all species. Distributions of the 8 species are shown on the map (courtesy of NOAA, U.S. Government).

Several other related types of gastropods, including turban and top shells are included in this section.

NOTE the English word “abalone” is derived from Sp. “aulon” or “aulone”, but it is not known what they were called in Britain before this adoption. Another English word for abalone, originating in the Channel Islands, is “ormer”. It is derived from the Fr. “oreille-de-mer”, meaning “sea ear”, in reference to the shape of the shell. The genus Haliotis also means “sea ear” in Greek. Its first occurrence in English literature was not until 1752 (Sir J. Hill referring to it as “the great ear shell”), so possibly prior to the 18th Century “ormer” was the name used in most or all areas of Great Britain

NOTE gastropods may be the most familiar of all marine invertebrates, not just because of their variety and “collectability” of their shells, but because of the diversity of habitats in which they live. They inhabit extreme habitats such as deep-sea trenches and hot deserts, and live in soil, on trees, and in lakes, streams, and ocean. Most are shelled (which largely explains their diversity of habitats), but others lack shells or have partial shells. For these reasons, plus the fact that the central “character” in the story is a winkle, gastropods are well represented in the ODYSSEY. Replication between the various groups, however, is minimal, and what is emphasised for each taxon are the features that make its members unique








The most up-to-date review of west-coast abalones has recently appeared online. With the understanding that you can never have too many nice photographs to refer to for identifications, the following are provided with thanks to the authors. There are 7 species and 1 subspecies on the west coast from Southern California to Alaska, and another 4 subspecies from Baja California. The subspecies from Baja Califonia are not included here. Geiger & Owen 2019 Zoosymposia 13: 053. Photographs courtesy the authors.

photographs of all haliotis spcies on the west coast of North America not including Baja California

ANIMATION of snail meeting an ABALONE
2010 Thomas Carefoot

snail's map showing click-on images of invertebrates dealt with in the educational website A SNAIL'S ODYSSEY

To learn about west-coast ABALONES: select a topic from the Mollusca > Abalones & relatives menu at the top of the page

OR: play the ANIMATION of the snail meeting the ABALONE

OR, if you want to see other animations: follow the snail on its ODYSSEY by CLICKING on any X-marked invertebrate on the map

Phylum Mollusca (lit. “soft” or “shellfish” L.)

Class Gastropoda (lit. “stomach foot” G.), referring to the body structure of viscera lying overtop of the muscular foot

SubClass Orthogastropoda (lit. “straight gastropod” G.), referring not to the shape of the shell but to aspects of their  phylogeny

SuperOrder Vetigastropoda1; included together here for convenience are abalones and top shells in the following Families:

Family Haliotidae (lit. “sea” G.), including abalones (Haliotis)

Family Trochidae2 (lit. “wheel” G.), including top and turban shells such as Tegula, Chlorostoma, Promartynia, Lirularia, Pupillaria (these last 2 were formerly Margarites)

Family Calliostomatidae3 (lit. “more beautiful” “mouth” G.), including 4 genera of which Calliostoma is of most interest in the Odyssey

Family Turbinidae4 (lit. "spinning top" L.), including top shells Pomaulax (Astraea) gibberosa

NOTE1 another SuperFamily of Vetigastropoda, the Fissurelloidea that includes keyhole limpets Diodora, is considered elsewhere in the LEARNABOUT LIMPETS & RELATIVES

NOTE2 some years ago the classification of west-coast trochids underwent major changes. Some species were placed in the genus Chlorostoma (auretincta, brunnea, ligulata, and montereyi), one into Promartynia (pulligo), and one into Tegula (funebralis). Most recently, new changes now place the following species into genus Tegula: aureotincta, brunnea, eiseni, funebralis, gallina, pulligo, regina. Alf 2019 Zoosympodia 13: 070 (see this same athour for other recent taxonomic changes in the Family Trochidae). Photographs below courtesy the author

Because of all of this, references to these species in the ODYSSEY may sometimes include the old genus name in brackets (e.g., Chlorostoma (Tegula) funebralis) or "Chlorostoma" in brackets (e.g., Tegula (Chlorostoma) funebralis), or may just use the same incorrect/older name as used by an author. These new changes have clarified and simplified the taxonomy of the trochids.

NOTE3 a recent review of the genus Calliostoma includes about 27 species on the west coast from Alaska to Baja California, some in quite deep water. Of these, 4 are of interest because they have featured in Research-Study articles in the Odyssey (a 5th additional species from Europe is also included). Photographs of these 5 can be found below. Tuskes 2019 Zoosymposia 13: 083. Photographs courtesy the author, and Serge Gofas

NOTE4 as noted above the top shell Astraea gibberosa has for some time been reclassified as Pomaulax gibberosus

photographs of west-coast Tegula species

photographs of 5 species of Calliostoma used in the Odyssey