Abalone Song, A Definitive Tribute to the Queen of the Mollusks

by Owen James Burke

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Above: the venerable red abalone (Haliotis rufescens) of the Pacific Northwest. Image: The Lucky Peach.

‘“When you throw up next time, aim away from me,” Steve said as he sized me up through his mask,” Tienlon Ho writes of her preview into the rigors of red abalone diving off Mendocino in Northern California for Lucky Peach.

Through 100 million years of evolution, abalone have changed very little, and until Europeans arrived in the Pacific, they had little reason to do so. Native Americans, writes Ho, found them so plentiful and life-sustaining that they used their shells as currency and even referred to themselves as “Abalone People.”

Stocks haven’t been doing so hot in recent decades, and regulations have been put in place to protect the species. For some, freediving for “abs” off northern California remains a sport. For others, it has become a black market goldmine as lucrative as heroin or sex trafficking.

Fortunately for Ho, she found herself under the auspices of three-and-a-half-decade “ab” diving veteran Steve Lackey, who, although ostensibly callous, had Ho’s interest of safety in mind.

Read Ho’s artful history of the red abalone at the Lucky Peach. –OJB

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