Monday, 25 July 2022


Abalone is the common name for a group of large marine snails — gastropod molluscs in the genus Haliotis, family Haliotidae.

Haliotis once contained six subgenera but these are now grouped together as alternate representations of Haliotis

In the Pacific Northwest, our rocky shores are home to the Northern or Pinto abalone, Haliotis kamtschatkana

In the Kwak̓wala language of the Kwakiutl or Kwakwaka'wakw, speakers of Kwak'wala, of the Pacific Northwest, abalone are known as gwa'lit̕sa.

They range from Mexico to Alaska and are the only abalone species found in Washington state, British Columbia and Alaska. Abalone prefer to live amongst the cold waters and high surf of rocky reef habitats. They are easily harvested as their sweet spot is water between 3-18 meters or 10-60 feet deep.  

The shells of abalones have a low, open spiral structure, and are characterized by several open respiratory pores in a row near the shell's outer edge. The thick inner layer of the shell is composed of nacre or mother-of-pearl. Their iridescent nacre is gorgeous and runs from white to blue to green. Both their meat and their shells are highly prized. 

The Northern or Pinto abalone is protected today. Those looking to use the shell for decorative purposes must now look to California or New Zealand. The California abalone is more colourful than its northern cousin and has long been preferred by First Nations artists, particularly for the large earrings favoured by women of rank amongst First Nations of the Pacific Northwest. 

My relatives are no exception. This wonderful photo of Dzawada'enuxw Margaret Frank neé Wilson wearing abalone shell earrings was taken by Edward Curtis on his visit to the northern end of Vancouver Island in 1914. 

Curtis visited many of my relatives and took numerous photos for which we are eternally grateful as they capture a time in history where the use of photography was limited. 

When he filmed In the Land of the Head Hunters, Dzawada'enuxw Margaret Frank was featured. It was later named, much more appropriately, In the Land of the War Canoes.

He also captured the work of Anisalaga, Mary Ebbetts Hunt, on these visits. When she married Robert Hunt, her son William, my great great grandfather married Annie Wilson. 

It is through Annie that I am related to this beautiful soul captured here. 

Photo: Edward Curtis (1868-1952), circa 1914. This photo was taken in Tsaxis, Fort Rupert, Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Canada