Sea snail matchmakers fight to save the white abalone

These giant wild sea snails are often unlucky in love.

"Abalone are terrible at long distance relationships. The white abalone that are left in the wild are so far apart from one another that they can't reproduce successfully on their own out there. "

It's breeding day for the endangered white abalone at a University of California laboratory in Bodega Bay.

Scientist Kristin Aquilino and her team are up before dawn,

scooping up their snails and preparing to match-make

"White abalone are on the brink of extinction? They cannot come back without our help. So what we're doing here is we're bringing them closer together, we're putting them into a really romantic solution of hydrogen peroxide, to get them to release those gametes for us, so that we can combine them in a laboratory setting and create offspring that will end up back out in the wild."

It's a day-long process - involving a long soak in what researchers refer to as a chemical love potion,

a lot of patience,

and a true wingman's hope that the bottom dwellers get in the mood to release their sperm and eggs.

"We try to give them a little bit of rest. These are endangered animals. We want to make sure we're not stressing them out too much. They are really, really precious."

"This structure right here is the gonad. And the coloration can tell us what sex it is. If it's a little bit more yellow, it's probably a male. If it's a little more gray, it's probably a female."

There's a lot is riding on the process.

The white abalone has been on the federal endangered species list since 2001, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

With overfishing, low reproduction rates, and disease all bringing the invertebrate's population numbers to historic lows.

One of this year’s highlights has been introduction ultrasound technology into the process.

For Aquilino, romance has spilled into the human realm too.

"I actually met my husband helping California Department of Fish and Wildlife Survey Red Abalone on the North Coast. Our third date was diving for Red Abalone. On my engagement ring was an abalone pearl and we couldn't wait to teach our kids to dove for abalone one day. It has become a really important part of my identity and my family's identity."

"I am a scientist, but I do believe a big part of my job is also to get people to care about these animals. And they look a lot like rocks when they're crawling around. Sometimes you might get a tentacle if you're lucky. But getting people to connect with them, to see that they have eyes and faces is just as important to saving them as the science that we're doing."