Can a Salish Sea snail return from the brink of extinction? Whatcom scientists, tribe hope so

A marine snail on the brink of extinction is getting help from Whatcom researchers and the Lummi Nation as Washington expands restoration efforts for the pinto abalone. The pinto abalone is the only abalone species native to Washington waters, contributing to healthy kelp forests that support a food web including orca and salmon. They are culturally significant to and a traditional food for Coast Salish tribes.

“Abalone populations have plummeted in most parts of the world,” said Deb Donovan, a professor at Western Washington University’s biology department, at a university-organized event on Thursday, Feb. 10.

Western Washington University researchers are also playing an important role in pinto abalone restoration. One graduate student’s work helped inform the type of phytoplankton the hatchery feeds very young abalone to best support survival and growth. Another student researched how to cryopreserve, or freeze, abalone sperm so that it can be used at a later date. (This gives researchers the ability to better control and maximize genetic diversity in their hatchery-raised abalone population, WWU professor Donovan said in her Thursday talk.)