Article image

Ultrasound technology can help protect abalone mollusks

Abalone mollusks – a type of giant sea snails that are notoriously difficult to breed in captivity – are threatened, endangered, or otherwise vulnerable in nearly every corner of the world. They face multiple, often intertwining threats ranging from warming ocean temperatures and disease to crashing kelp forests and habitat degradation.

Abalone suction onto surfaces and have to be pried off for gonad inspection before spawning. However, these animals are very sensitive and can be easily harmed during this process. 

As part of an effort to conserve federally endangered black abalone and find better ways to assess their reproductive health, a research team led by the University of California Davis has developed a technique that uses an ultrasound transducer to quickly and noninvasively detect when abalone are ready to spawn. Although this technique has already been used for gonad assessments on sturgeon and catfish, it has not been tested on sea snails before.

“There are not a lot of animal welfare methods applied to invertebrate animals, let alone for aquatic species,” said study corresponding author Jackson Gross, an assistant professor of Cooperative Extension in Aquaculture at UC Davis. “Here’s a way to increase the welfare of an abalone without bringing added stress to them.”

The scientists found that ultrasounds could differentiate reproductive tissues from digestive tissues. By submerging the abalone underwater in its tank and placing the ultrasound transducer on the outside of the tank by the abalone’s foot, the researchers could assess the abalone’s reproductive readiness without touching it at all. 

“This is very helpful for broodstock managers when trying to select individuals for a spawning season, whether for production aquaculture or conservation,” said study lead author Sara Boles, a postdoctoral researcher at UC Davis.    

“We’re excited to see how much faster we can use this technology to assess the health of these animals, especially in a world where climate change is making an impact,” concluded Professor Gross.

The study is published in the journal Frontiers in Marine Science.

By Andrei Ionescu, Staff Writer

News coming your way
The biggest news about our planet delivered to you each day