Abalone shells are beautiful gifts from mother nature. With just one look, you may find yourself reaching to bring one home. Their iridescent appearance is nearly impossible to resist.
Whether you’re a fan of abalone or just discovering its practical and spiritual uses, you shouldn’t miss out on adding this as a complement to your gemstone collection.
In this guide, you’ll learn what abalone are and why they're historically and culturally significant. Plus, we’ll explore a few ways you can use this spiritual tool, from cleansing the energy of your space to experiencing more peace and joy.
Abalone Throughout History
The first mention of abalone in the historical record dates to the fourth century BCE and Aristotle. He mentions a “wild limpet (called by some the ‘sea ear’),” and Japanese records dating from 425 AD discuss abalone divers who searched for pearls.
Anthropologists have discovered abalone shells around the Channel Islands that are thousands of years old. They believe it could be an indication of a Native American abalone fishery. Further evidence suggests abalone was more than just a source of food. Fish hooks, jewelry, knives, and even abalone coins suggest it was highly valued and for its beauty and practical uses.
Pieces of shell and other artifacts made from abalone have been discovered in Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, and Utah, indicating its use in trading.
What Are Abalone?
Abalone are a type of sea snail, a mollusk with a one-piece shell, and part of the phylum Mollusca and Gastropoda class. Further classified into the family Haliotidae and genus Haliotis, abalone breathe through pores in their shell. They also have a foot muscle that helps them latch onto the ocean floor, not unlike some clam species. Abalone will use their foot to navigate their underwater environment during the night, feasting on algae and kelp.
The habitats of abalone vary depending on the species. Some, like green abalone, are easy to spot during low tides while others lurk in deep water. Most abalone hang out in water between 10 and 20 feet deep.
Abalone are typically hunted for their meat, which is a delicacy (all of their meat is edible). Their beautiful shells are a byproduct and mostly used for jewelry and souvenirs. As for how abalone shells wind up with such gorgeous coloring, it all comes down to diet. While baby abalone are growing, they consume various kelp and seaweed species, which can influence the appearance of their shells. Their shells are a record of both their growth and what they eat.
These marine snails are found across the globe. The most abundant populations are off the coasts of Australia, Japan, and North America. Smaller abalone are located in New Zealand, South Africa, and some parts of the Indian Ocean.
Different Species of Abalone
Scientists believe there are around 130 species and subspecies of abalone in the world. However, there is some debate as to whether or not hybrid varieties should be included in this final tally. North America is home to nine abalone species, most of which are on the west coast of the United States. Here are some of the most common:
- Red abalone: As their name suggests, red abalone have red shells with black tentacles. You can find them anywhere from Sunset Bay, Oregon, down to Tortugas in Baja, California. While they can grow to over 12 inches in length, it’s much more common to find red abalone measuring between seven and nine inches.
- Black abalone: Black abalone shells are a smooth dark blue or black and can be found in Mendocino County, California, and as far south as Baja. They have black tentacles and frills and average five to six inches in length, though they can grow to nearly eight. Black abalone can be found in depths up to 20 feet.
- Green abalone: Green abalone shells are brown and ribbed with green tentacles. Like other species, green abalone make their home along the California coast in a zone between Point Conception, California, and Bahia Magdalena, in Baja California. Though they grow up to 10 inches long, they’re usually smaller and tuck themselves into nooks and crannies with dense algae covers.
- Pink abalone: Pink abalone have thick shells with black tentacles and a light orange or yellow foot. You can find pink abalone in the vicinity of Point Conception down to Santa Maria Bay in Baja. They roost in kelp beds and can be found in waters deeper than 120 feet. While pink abalone can grow up to 10 inches in length, most are smaller than seven inches. In the 1950s, pink abalone made up 75% of a fishery in the Channel Islands. This included Catalina Island, Santa Barbara, and San Clemente.
- White abalone: White abalone have deep shells and a habitat ranging from Point Conception to Baja. Some abalone will grow to 10 inches in length, but most will be between five and eight inches.
- Pinto abalone: This species of abalone has narrow shells with thin green tentacles. Pinto abalone make their home in Alaskan waters and can be found as far south as Monterey, California. You can see them in subtidal zones and waters deeper than 70 feet, with most averaging four inches.
Threats to Abalone Populations
Unfortunately, wild abalone populations have declined significantly due to several factors. Overfishing, predation by other animals, the collapse of kelp forests, and disease have all played a role in some abalone varieties being placed on the endangered species list.
According to Craig Welch’s book, “Shell Games,” even though scientists knew poaching had undoubtedly had an impact, abalone populations continued to dwindle. Biologists eventually discovered the harmful effects of illegal fishing were severely impacting reproduction. The remaining animals were simply too far away to be able to mate with each other.
Abalone are tasty treats for otters, crabs, octopuses, and fish. Like many animals, abalone face food and habitat competition from other animals, such as sea urchins and shrimp that want to burrow under abalone shells.
Yet another blow to abalone populations has come as a result of disease. Withering syndrome affects some species and causes the foot muscle to weaken, impacting their ability to hang on to rocks as they move about.
When you're shopping for abalone shells, pay attention to sourcing. Make sure they're farmed and not wild so you can do your part to help preserve natural populations. Farmed abalone are more sustainable and lessen the impact on the environment.
Abalone and Its Healing Properties
Abalone shells are excellent for enhancing your spiritual practice. They share a connection with the water element, which governs the feminine, or yin, energy and emotional world. As such, abalone shells are a fantastic choice when you're looking to soothe your emotions or summon a more peaceful atmosphere into your personal space. Here are three ways you can begin working with the healing properties of abalone shells.
1. Find a Moment of Tranquility
Sometimes, it can be tricky to find a peaceful moment to ourselves in-between the hustle and bustle of our days. When you find yourself craving a meaningful and serene moment to catch your breath or clear your mind, abalone may help. Healers and energy workers believe holding an abalone shell can instill feelings of calm and relaxation.
When you’re in the middle of a stressful time, grab your abalone shell and take a few deep breaths to center yourself and find your way to an untroubled and content frame of mind. Simply holding abalone can soothe your emotions and create comfort.
If you’re looking for a more sustainable option, keep your eyes open for a piece of jewelry with aquamarine or amethyst gemstones. Both have calming properties that can help you feel more at ease in the present moment.
2. Increase Feelings of Love and Joy
Abalone's healing properties pull double duty. Not only can this shell help you find calmer emotional waters, it can also bring the sunshine out on a cloudy day. If you find yourself stuck in the doldrums and ready to feel more cheerful, abalone's healing properties could be what you need. It's also helpful if you're hoping to experience more love in your life.
Maybe you've been working on inner healing or are hoping to invite supportive energy into your space while you engage in spiritual work. Abalone can help you nurture your heart center and allow you to move through any blocks you have around love.
3. Perform a Cleansing Ritual
Smudging and smoke clearing ceremonies have been used throughout history and across cultures for centuries. If you aren't familiar with them, smudging involves burning sage, palo santo, or other sacred herbs to cleanse the energy around a person, object, or physical space. Because smudging is still practiced today by indigenous cultures, it's essential to be both mindful and respectful when performing a smoke or cleansing ritual.
Consider using an abalone shell to catch the ashes or hold your bundle of herbs while smudging. If you're moving into a new house or apartment, you may want to use the smoke to clear the space of any past energy. Alternatively, you may find it helpful to burn a bit of sage or palo santo before you settle into a meditation practice or other spiritual work.
A note on using abalone shells for smudging rituals: Before burning palo santo or sage, sprinkle a bit of sand in the bottom of your shell to protect the mother of pearl inside. With proper care, you can expect a lifetime of enjoyment out of your abalone shell.
Use Abalone To Find Serenity and Joy
Nature provides us with an untold number of riches, from sparkling gemstones to shimmering abalone shells. And we can take advantage of abalone's healing properties when we're longing for more peaceful and loving energy in our world. It's as effortless as keeping a piece of abalone on your home altar or adorning yourself with a bit of jewelry.
Whether you find yourself drawn to abalone for its spiritual properties, or admire its beauty, it's worth exploring how you can use it in your daily life.