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Species Database

Haliotis kamtschatkana - Pinto abalone

Pinto abalone image

Geographic range:

Alaska to central California

Key features:

Excurrent pores are lined with golden tissue and raised above the shell. Epipodial tentacles are golden or a mottled yellow brown, and the mantle is light brown, mottled and has a pebbly appearance.

Similar species:

Haliotis rufescens -- Red abalone
Haliotis walallensis -- Flat abalone


bay (rocky shore), exposed rocky shore, kelp forest, protected rocky shore

Primary common name:

Pinto abalone

General grouping:

Snails, limpets, abalone, chitons

ITIS code:


Geographic Range

Range Description:

Sitka, Alaska to Big Sur, California according to CDFG, but they have been reported in Japan, Siberia and southward to Mexico.

Intertidal Height

Lowest intertidal height:

-0.6006006 meters OR -2 feet

Highest intertidal height:

0 meters OR 0 feet

Intertidal height notes:

In the northern part of the range (British Columbia and Alaska) they can occur in the lower intertidal.

Subtidal Depth Range

Minimum depth:

0 meters OR 0 feet

Maximum depth:

40 meters OR 133.2 feet

Subtidal depth notes:

A true maximum depth limit is not known, but pinto abalone occur to at least 20 m deep in central California.


bay (rocky shore), exposed rocky shore, kelp forest, protected rocky shore

Habitat notes:

Pinto abalone prefer rocky reef habitat, clinging to rocks and either directly grazing attached kelp or grabbing drift kelp to feed.


Relative abundance:

Uncommon in central California, more common in the northern range.

Species Description

General description:

Like all abalone, the pinto abalone has a single large foot that clings tightly to rock and a perforated shell that protects the viscera and foot. The shell is often quite humped, unlike the flattened shell of the similar looking flat abalone nor is it as robust as the red abalone shell. There are 3-6 excurrent openings, and the shell is usually raised along the margin of each hole, more so than for flat abalone but similar to red abalone. In younger pinto abalone, there is a groove that parallels the excurrent pores, and can be a bright golden color. The shell itself is mottled red and green and usually overgrown with epibionts. The mantle of the pinto abalone (the skirt of tissue around the foot) is usually a pale golden-brown or yellow, and the surface appears pebbled and mottled. Epipodial tentacles are golden, yellow-green or yellow-brown and can be striped.

Distinctive features:

Red abalone have a black or gray mantle and black epipodial tentacles, and the lower lip of the shell bright red. The shell of flat abalone also has a red lip, but the foot is a mottled brown and tan with a pebbly surface, similar to the pinto abalone.


Shell length to 7 inches (18 cm) although commonly around 4-5 inches in central California. This is the smallest of the abalone species found in California.

Natural History

General natural history:

The pinto abalone is an herbivorous snail, consuming either algae attached to rocks or remaining in cracks and crevices to catch drift kelp. Much of our understanding of abalone is based on the more common and larger red abalone, which was the basis of commercial harvest in central California until overfishing caused a collapse. Pinto abalone are less common than red abalone, although in recent years there appears to be an increase in the number of pinto abalone sightings, particularly along Carmel and the Big Sur coast. Sexes are separate and fertilization is external, with spawning likely in spring and summer. Newly recruited pinto abalone are usually under rocks and boulders, protected from potential predators. As they grow (about 1-2 cm per year) they emerge from under the rocks and occupy cracks and crevices.


Juveniles can be consumed by cabezon (Scorpaenichthys marmoratus) and crabs. Adults are consumed by sea otters. The commercial fishery for abalone has been closed in California for several years.


Pinto abalone are herbivores, feeding on red algae and kelp. Part of the coloration of the shell is derived from their diet of red algae.

Feeding behavior


Feeding behavior notes:

When drift kelp is abundant, pinto abalone remain in cracks and crevices, avoiding exposure to sea otters, which pry them off the rocks and consumer them. In the absence of otters, pinto abalone can be found in the open.

April - August


Little is known about spawning events in central California, but it likely takes place in spring and summer.

Gulf of Farallones National Marine Sanctuary:

Pinto abalone were historically harvested from the Farallon Islands.

Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary:

Pinto abalone were commercially harvested beginning in 1971 and the fishery was overfished by 1979 with a peak of 10,000 pounds in 1973. (See: All commercial harvest was closed in 1997 by CDFG in California state waters. Only red abalone can be taken recreationally. For more information on CDFG sport fishing regulations, please visit:

Listing Status:

Historically pinto abalone were common in the Pacific Northwest. Currently pinto abalone is listed as threatened by the Canadian Federal Government and a Species of Concern by the US Federal Government. The current small population size is largely due to previous commercial, recreational and on-going illegal harvest.
Click on an image below to view a larger version in the SIMoN Photo Library. You will also be able to view important information on each photo such as photographer, date, caption and more.
Carlton, J.T. 2007.
The Light and Smith Manual, 4th edition
Intertidal Invertebrates from Central California to Oregon
University of California Press. 1001 p.

Haaker, P.L, K.C. Henderson and D.O. Parker. 1986. California abalone. Marine Resources Leaflet No. 11. California Department of Fish and Game.16 p.
Morris, R.H., D.P Abbott, and E.C. Haderlie. 1980. Intertidal Invertebrates of California. Stanford University Press, Stanford, California. 690 p.
Save Our Abalone
Accessed 11/29/2010 for Pinto Abalone