Species recovery: pinto abalone

A red, green and white adult pinto abalone underwater.

A Washington state local

The xʷč’iłqs, which is Lushootseed for pinto abalone (Haliotis kamtschatkana), is the only abalone species found in Washington waters and has cultural and ecological significance. A type of marine snail, pinto abalone graze on rock surfaces, clearing the way for recruitment of other animals and plants and helping maintain the health of rocky reef and kelp forest habitats. They also serve as a food resource for a myriad of marine species during their life cycle, including octopuses, sunflower sea stars and sea otters. This native species is culturally important to Native Nations, Tribes and Indigenous peoples in Washington.

Photo: Adult pinto abalone, courtesy of Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.

Population status

Once abundant in the San Juan Islands and Strait of Juan de Fuca, the pinto abalone essentially disappeared from Washington waters early this century. From 1992 to 2017, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) documented a 97% decline in abalone within 10 fixed survey stations in the San Juan Islands. In 2019, pinto abalone were formally listed as a state endangered species. Check out the FAQ below for why the population decreased as it did. Globally, pinto abalone are listed as Endangered on the IUCN Red List of Threatened species.

What’s the plan?

The Seattle Aquarium joined with Puget Sound Restoration Fund, WDFW, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the Port Townsend Marine Science Center, the University of Washington, Western Washington University and other partners to advance pinto abalone recovery in the Salish Sea. Together, we aim to restore local populations of this state-listed endangered species.

In June 2021, we received our first cohort of larvae and juveniles, which we are rearing in the new pinto abalone nursery at its temporary location next to the Elliott Bay window of the Aquarium before a planned release in spring 2022. At that time, the nursery will be moved to its permanent location at the Aquarium’s new animal care center to receive the next cohort. 

After the animals are in our care for about one year, they will be transported and released into designated sites around the San Juan Islands or Strait of Juan de Fuca each spring.

Photo: Pinto abalone nursery at the Seattle Aquarium

Make a donation to support programs like this.



Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration - U.S. Department of Commerce

Western Washington University

Puget Sound Restoration Fund

University of Washington

Port Townsend Marine Science Center

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)
What caused the population decline of pinto abalone in Washington waters?
Wouldn’t closing the recreational fishery in the mid-1990s bring the population numbers back up by now?
How many pinto abalone will the Seattle Aquarium rear and for how long?