Abalone are marine snails. Their taxonomy puts them in the family Haliotidae, which contains only one genus, Haliotis, which once contained six subgenera. These subgenera have become alternate representations of Haliotis. The number of species recognized worldwide ranges between 30 and 130 with over 230 species-level taxa described. The most comprehensive treatment of the family considers 56 species valid, with 18 additional subspecies.

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 (mother-of-pearl), which in many species is highly iridescent, giving rise to a range of strong, changeable colors, which make the shells attractive to humans as decorative objects, jewelry, and as a source of colorful mother-of-pearl.

The flesh of abalones is widely considered to be a desirable food, and is consumed raw or cooked by a variety of cultures.