According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, white abalone have produced few offspring since the early 1970s. Every abalone species faces similar challenges.
"All seven of them were overfished, apparently white abalone were the tastiest, and they were really overfished and we ended up overfishing ninety nine percent of the animals that existed in the wild."
Frederick and her team are a key part of the federal response.
"That's something that is a little more challenging to understand in the lab, because we give these animals everything that they need. These are the most pampered snails in the world. We basically run a very fancy reproductive spa for white abalone."
Because they live at depth, elaborate chillers cool the water to an ideal 14 Celsius. Filters set at several microns keep out toxins, including the cause of wasting disease. Dulse, a favorite food, is cultured in a tumbling tank, augmented by diatoms and harvested giant kelp.
Nora Frank, the lead technician here has a long list of daily chores. Assuring water temperature and quality, assessing health and vitality, feeding, tagging, cleaning and checking the lab's floor each morning for any escapees that slithered from a trough.
"We keep it really clean and sterile for our animals so we're walking on a mat that's going to sterilize the bottom of your shoes, and so anytime we go in and we're going to touch the animals, we sterilize our hands too,"
The sound of water is everywhere. Sturdy, hand build racks are loaded with dozens of troughs--basically PVC piping cut in half lengthwise. Off to one side, behind a black plastic curtain, mature abalone hold fast to the sides of their tanks. Accenting the space, hoses and tubes form orderly spaghetti-like runs delivering water and oxygen, the blue hued light and windowless space tacks closer to the Matrix, than an upscale resort.
It's unclear exactly why, but white abalone breed only in the spring. Naturally living fifty to 180 feet beneath the waves, it's unclear how they even know the season, but scientists have had little success in orchestrating off-season reproduction--even with artificial lighting mimicking the seasons. Frederick says there's still plenty science hasn't figured out.
"There's a potential that we're missing some of the really important cues that they might have gotten out in the wild, that they are not getting here and that's a big thing that we're trying to do, what are the things that we're missing? That we don't know about yet that we can then provide and make animals reproductive," Frank said.