Encouraging signs for giant Australian cuttlefish recovery

It is with great delight that we wish to report some observations from the 2015 giant Australian cuttlefish aggregation in Upper Spencer Gulf, South Australia. As many friends of the cuttlefish will already know, the population gathers from the surrounding waters of Northern Spencer Gulf (north of Wallaroo and Arno Bay) each winter. They arrive en masse along the Point Lowly peninsula where they seek out mates and lay their eggs on the rocky inshore reefs of Whyalla, Black Point, Stony Point and Point Lowly.

Single giant Australian cuttlefish at Stony Point - Chris Carthew 2015

Single giant Australian cuttlefish at Stony Point – Chris Carthew 2015

The monitored decline in population (1998-2013) has been a matter of great concern to local residents, the dive community, conservationists and fishermen. Back in the late 1990’s, there were an estimated 250,000 animals arriving annually at the aggregation areas. By 2013, that number had dropped to 13,500. In 2014 there was cautious optimism, as the downward trend turned a corner. The population increased to around 57,000 animals. We last listed some of the factors which may have contributed to the decline on Cuttlefish Day, 10 October 2013- during the annual celebration of all things cephalopod: Cephalopod Awareness Days.

This year’s early observations were promising, with local divers noticing that the average size of observed animals had increased- a possible indicator of improving animal health. A recent trip made by the Flinders University Underwater Club returned some amazing photographs, including those featured in this post by Chris Carthew. The group shots reveal the animals’ clear and visible abundance. Local divers estimate that numbers may have doubled again from 2014 figures, but official numbers collected by SARDI and corporate-contracted scientists are yet to confirm this.

Large group of Sepia apama, Upper Spencer Gulf - Chris Carthew 2015

Large group of Sepia apama, Stony Point – Chris Carthew 2015

If you haven’t already seen the cuttlefish yourself, now would be an excellent time to plan a trip. The animals start arriving in May each year, and remain easily visible through August. In a good season, the animals may also be present in September, though by this time, the majority of animals will have laid their eggs and passed away. Both male and female cuttlefish die after mating and laying their eggs, meaning that every year the majority of animals present represent an entirely new generation.

Group of Sepia apama, Upper Spencer Gulf - Chris Carthew 2015

Group of Sepia apama, Stony Point – Chris Carthew 2015

There are a few common misconceptions about the accessibility of the cuttlefish aggregation. Firstly, you don’t need to be able to dive in order to see them up close and appreciate them. Nor do you need a boat, nor do you need your own wetsuit. Local business Whyalla Diving Services and its proprietor Tony Bramley have everything you will need- expert knowledge, wetsuits, snorkels, fins, weights, torches for night explorations and scuba tanks if you’re qualified and want to dive.

The animals aggregate in shallow water (mostly 3-6 metres), along rocky inshore fringing reef, accessible from the shore. The two most popular spots, Black Point and Stony Point both have car-parking and easy descents to the water’s edge. Black Point has a staircase down a cliff to the rocky shore, and Stony Point has a gentler entry down an artificial walkway.

Map of Point Lowly cuttlefish dive and snorkel sites 2015

Map of Point Lowly cuttlefish dive and snorkel sites 2015

We maintain that the giant Australian cuttlefish is a marine wonder of the natural world, and it is with great relief and joy that we share this good news with you. Vigilance in defense of this habitat is ever necessary however, as plans to industrialise the region are ever present. Last week, we drew attention to Sundrop Farms’ plan to dump desalination brine into Upper Spencer Gulf upstream of the cuttlefish aggregation areas. A plan for a mineral export port at Port Bonython, which would run through the existing Stony Point reef is also pending approval. A decision is expected by June 30 this year.

The only thing that will protect the cuttlefish and their breeding area is community support- something we have been fostering through this website since it was launched in August 2011. If you want to show the cuttlefish some love, please consider signing our petition, or making a donation to our ongoing work to draw attention to this natural wonder and see that it receives the protection, management and careful study that we believe it deserves. The independent, feature-length documentary film, Cuttlefish Country is currently in post-production and your donations will support its release, promotion and international distribution.

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Dan Monceaux is a South Australian documentary filmmaker and the director of Cuttlefish Country.

Posted in Advocacy, News
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