This article takes animal materials as contested elements of ecological knowledge production. The focus is on Ago Bay, a Japanese inlet at the mid-twentieth-century global epicenter of demand for “cultured” pearls that formed inside surgically manipulated shellfish. In 1950s Ago, long-established pearl cultivators complained that their pearls had thinner outer coatings than they expected. Tracing shifting ideas about shellfish stocking densities, smallholder aquaculture, rates of pearl formation, and the accumulation of organic wastes in water over time, this article reconsiders the puzzle of the thinly coated pearl. In its guise as host to thousands of working pearl farms and a network of researchers studying the effects of intensive pearl cultivation, Ago Bay is a rich site from which to think about aquaculture’s ecological and infrastructural limits. The bay was not simply a natural receptacle that housed pearl cultivation. The shore, water, seafloor, and floating pearl oyster raft-and-cage systems could be—and were—defined as infrastructure that could undergo regulation and rearrangement. Pearl cultivation did not just happen in the bay; it was part of the bay—and it reshaped ideas about the bay. This paper is part of a special issue entitled “Making Animal Materials in Time,” edited by Laurence Douny and Lisa Onaga.

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