Abalones are slow-growing, herbivorous marine snails. They belong to a large class of molluscs (Gastropoda) with singlestructured shells. There are over 100 species worldwide in the single genus Haliotis, which means ‘sea ear’, a reflection of the flattened shape of the shell. It is no surprise then that it is called ‘Oreille de Mer’ in France. Abalone shells can be oval or rounded, with a row of respiratory pores and large dome towards one end.
The strong, muscular foot generates enough suction to allow the abalone to fix itself firmly to rocky surfaces. They are found from the inter-tidal to the depth limit of marine plants, some 80 -100m, from tropical to cold waters. The related endemic Chilean Abalone or ‘Loco’ (Concholepas concholepas) is from a different gastropod family (Thaidinae) and feeds exclusively on green algae. Highly prized as food, the Chilean Abalone has seen significant decline in numbers and is now scarce as a result of overfishing.