On February 26th, naturalist and photographer David Muirhead and documentary filmmaker Dan Monceaux made an exciting discovery while diving in the waters of False Bay, north of Whyalla.
Two species of pipefish were found, then photographed and video-recorded there in the wild for the first time. A Spotted Pipefish (Stigmatopora argus) which is widely distributed in SA, was seen hitch-hiking on a drifting blade of seagrass and several Tiger Pipefish (Filicampus tigris) were found on the sandy bottom. The animals’ identities were confirmed by the widely published naturalist, author and photographer Rudie Kuiter, who shared the pair’s excitement.
“David gestured with great enthusiasm when he sighted the first Tiger Pipefish. Clearly it was something special,” says Monceaux.
The South Australian population of Tiger Pipefish only occurs in Northern Spencer Gulf, and is known from populations interstate as a sub-tropical species. It was first recorded in South Australia on November 5th, 1968 near the jetty at Port Pirie. More recent specimens were collected from trawls in 2007 and identified by Professor Steve Donnellan of the SA Museum.
Pipefish are Sygnathids, relatives of sea horses and sea dragons, and are fully protected under South Australia’s Fisheries Act. Any taking of a single animal can incur a $4000 fine.
Monceaux is concerned that the Tiger Pipefish may be impacted by proposed increases in industrial activity in the region. Much less is known about their biology than the well-studied Giant Australian Cuttlefish of the region, whose breeding population has collapsed from 250,000 animals in the mid 2000’s to around 16,000 animals in 2012 without explanation.
“Pipefish are very weak swimmers. I’m concerned that plans for industrial water intakes for multiple desalination plants and industrial cooling systems may entrap and entrain these animals and their young. Their very presence here is yet another reason why Northern Spencer Gulf’s waters are so special and deserve appropriate protection.”
Spencer Gulf’s biodiversity will take centre stage in Monceaux’s ‘Cuttlefish Country’ film, and the potential impacts of industrial development around the Gulf will be closely analysed and considered. ‘Cuttlefish Country’ will premiere in Whyalla this coming cuttlefish breeding season before embarking on a statewide tour.