On a rainy winter evening, biologist Kristin Aquilino was rummaging through the trunk of her pickup truck in the Bodega Marine Lab parking lot. She was looking for a rubber spatula—a tool she needed to pry a recently captured white abalone from inside an ice chest brimming with seawater.
Aquilino had driven the rare animal 385 miles from Los Angeles, where it was captured off the coast, and where small numbers of this endangered species can still be found. She was about to introduce the 7-inch marine snail to its new home, a research facility at UC Davis’ Bodega Marine Lab in Bodega Bay.
Now Aquilino had the unenviable task of trying to pry loose the creature’s squishy orange foot without injuring it. Any nick to this male abalone’s flesh, or chip to its shell, could cause the snail to bleed uncontrollably since its fluid doesn’t clot.
“I’ve been studying these animals for years and this is one of the few wild white abalone I’ve seen,” says Aquilino, an abalone expert at the Bodega Marine Lab.
That’s because there are more white abalone living in captivity than there are in the wild. And the mollusk in Aquilino’s hands is the first wild white abalone scientists have collected from the ocean in more than a decade.
These rare creatures are incredibly difficult for divers to find in the deep waters where they live.