Tuesday, 14 February 2012

In which I rescue a Yellow Foot paua ~

Rewi and I took a walk along an unfamiliar stretch of beach this afternoon.  It was low tide and many shallow almost muddy pools remained amidst the rocky outcrops and their ropes of seaweed.  I'm always on the lookout for anything unusual and was somewhat startled to see a blobbish shape sporting a bright yellow stripe rotating slowly in the water.  What could it be and why was it in that unlikely pool?  I wondered if it could be a stray paua looking for a rock to fasten onto.  I plucked it out of the water to take a closer look.  It was indeed a paua, easily recognisable once I held it shell-side up. 


'Paua' is the New Zealand term for Abalone.  And I'm fairly sure that the little round attachments on the shell are 'flat barnacles'

Rewi and I immediately had a spirited argument as to its fate: he, the true hunter-gatherer, was all for taking it home and eating it, and I, a naturalist at heart, was determined to rescue and re-home it.  I clinched the argument by declaring that since I had found it it was mine to do what I like with!  Fair enough!  Off we went to find it a new home, but first I had a good look at it:

As soon as I lifted it out of the water it contracted its foot:


The underside of paua is entirely fleshy, and similar to that of a snail.  It both holds on with and moves about on the central portion of flesh, which is termed its foot.  The yellow colour of this one is the source of its common name of Yellow Foot; most paua found in New Zealand waters are Black Foot.  The Yellow Foot is smaller in scale and occurs in far fewer number than the other.

I was amazed at how agile the creature was, so different to the rigidity of its protective shell!  It searched about with its 'foot' looking for something to hold onto:


I rotated it carefully in my hand so that it didn't latch onto me - I didn't want either of us to make any mistakes: 


In the picture below you can see its beautiful pink tentacles and even the veining in the soft white flesh next to the shell:


We looked about for a more suitable spot for it.  Paua like to make their homes fastened onto a rock face hidden from view and near or below the water line.  I found the perfect pool and placed it into it where it could take a look and see if it fancied it.  The sandy bottom of this part of the pool was only a few inches deep in the low tide, and would be way underwater as the tide came back in:


Hmm, evidently it was satisfactory as it delicately reached up and felt around for what could truly be called a foothold!


Got it!  Heigh ho, up we go...


And now it settles in to place:


And after a bit of adjusting itself, it almost completely disappeared:


But we know its there:


And no one else will ever find it!

Rewi and I talked about how it could have come to be drifting about in that first unsuitable pool.  Our guess is that it was prized off its home rock somewhere else by someone harvesting shellfish and then either dropped or thrown back for some reason.  It may have been undersized: Yellow Foot paua must be at least 80mm long when measured across the longest part of the underside.  It seems pretty pointless to have abandoned it in that spot where it couldn't get to any cover, and on a hot sunny day it may have died.  I've read that when returning them to the sea they should be placed foot down onto the reef, which makes sense, if you're handy to a reef!  In this case a handy pool with overhanding rocks was a good and safe choice. 

Today we had another interesting beach find when we inadvertently brought home a rather beautiful chiton, but I'll save that story for another day...

The link below may be useful for shellfish gatherers:

You can find my other articles about exploring the beach and its rock pools via the link below: 

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