cross-sectionEven snails need check-ups.

California Department of Fish and Wildlife’s (CDFW) Shellfish Health Laboratory (SHL) works to keep our captive white abalone healthy, monitor for disease and other health risks, and understand the cause of any mortality.

Routine Check-Ups

Each animal in the WAC lab gets routine physicals to determine health, growth, and maturity.

Health Metrics

  • Length
  • Weight
  • Shell condition
  • Pathogen screening
  • Behavior

metricsSnails have BMI’s too! Shell length and body weight provide a “condition index” that provides an indicator of general health.






healthy/sickCaptive abalone are routinely tested for WS-RLP (Withering Syndrome-associated Rickettsiales-Like Prokaryote). Infection with this intracellular bacterium can lead to Withering Syndrome (WS), which causes abalone to starve to death.



Treatment and Preventative Care

To eliminate parasites and pests that can live on or even within the abalone shell, our white abalone get their shells scrubbed before being treated with an organic beeswax and coconut oil mixture. The wax coating is designed to smother any undesirable organisms on the shell and also protects them from further infestation.

white ab health
A: Polydora worm burrows compromise structural integrity of shell. B: Parasitic pyramidellid snails cluster on the shell edge. C: Invasive sabellid worms’ feeding crowns protrude from tubes on the shell. D: A freshly waxed abalone.






Sometimes abalone exhibit signs of ill health that prompt treatment with antibiotics. When necessary, abalone are treated with antibiotic baths to cure WS-RLP infection or with a medicated feed to combat opportunistic bacterial infections.

white ab health X 3
A, B: Oxytetracycline antibiotic baths. C: Medicated feed, produced in a pasta extruder.






necropsyWhenever a white abalone dies, we employ a variety of methods to determine the cause, to help prevent subsequent deaths in the population. These tools include necropsy, histopathology, and conventional and quantitative PCR.





researchThe Shellfish Health Lab conducts pathology research to investigate existing and potential threats to captive and wild abalone populations. By cultivating a complete understanding of the factors that affect abalone health, we can aid White Abalone Recovery efforts throughout life stages and different environments.