NOAA Fisheries conducts research on the biology, behavior, and ecology of the black abalone. The results are used to inform management decisions and enhance recovery efforts for this endangered species.

Along with NOAA Fisheries, many groups—both in the United States and in other countries—are working to help save the black abalone. Among them are the Multi-Agency Rocky Intertidal Network (MARINe,, Channel Islands National Park, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, and El Centro de Investigación Científica y de Educación Superior de Ensenada (CICESE; Baja California, Mexico).

Long-term Population and Habitat Monitoring

Long-term monitoring of black abalone populations and their habitat has been ongoing throughout the California coast, in some areas since the mid-1970s. NOAA Fisheries continues to support these monitoring programs because the data provided are critical to assessing the status and recovery of black abalone. For example, these monitoring efforts allowed researchers and resource managers to detect the mass mortalities of black abalone that occurred in the 1980s and 1990s and to track the spread of the disease through the Channel Islands and northward along the mainland California coast. Since then, continued monitoring has confirmed the local extirpation of black abalone at many sites, as well as the persistence of black abalone at several locations. Monitoring has also detected recent recruitment events and increases in black abalone numbers at a few local areas.

Efforts to expand monitoring in southern California and Baja California are underway, to fill data gaps within these regions. Future monitoring may also include genetic sampling to evaluate the population structure of wild populations and additional health monitoring to assess the level of infection with the withering syndrome disease, as well as to provide early detection of other diseases among the wild population. This long-term monitoring is only possible due to the efforts of our many partners, including Federal agencies, State agencies, universities, and non-governmental organizations, that carry out field monitoring each year and maintain and manage the data so that it is accessible to researchers and resource managers. 

Learn more about how we monitor black abalone populations

Disease Research and Health Monitoring

Our partners at the University of Washington, University of California Santa Cruz, University of California Davis-Bodega Marine Lab, and CDFW have made significant advancements in disease research, including the development of novel methods to detect the withering syndrome pathogen in wild abalone and their habitat, antibiotic treatments for removing the pathogen from captive abalone, correlations between increased water temperature and increased infection and disease rates, and the discovery of a bacteriophage that infects the pathogen and increases the survival of infected abalone. We continue to work with our partners to evaluate the potential for disease resistance in black abalone (through the bacteriophage and through genetically-based resistance) and the susceptibility of black abalone to other diseases.

Learn more about black abalone and withering syndrome


A black abalone from coastal California displaying a shrunken foot caused by Withering Syndrome disease. Photo: John Steinbeck, Tenera Environmental Consulting

Captive Breeding Studies

Development of a captive propagation program for black abalone would support our understanding of the early life history of black abalone, as well as provide animals for research and outplanting efforts, to enhance wild populations. The biggest obstacle, however, is the challenge of spawning black abalone in captivity. To date, successful captive spawning has been very limited and difficult to replicate. Since 2013, researchers at the Navy and now at the NMFS Southwest Fisheries Science Center have been working to develop reliable methods to captively spawn black abalone. Once methods have been developed, we can learn from the white abalone captive propagation and outplanting programs to inform development of such programs for black abalone.