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Help save the Giant Australian Cuttlefish Whyalla breeding ground (Lowly Point)

Sep 16, 2011

Hi everyone, this marine conservation post should be particularly pertinent to all of you.

One of our beloved cephalopods is in trouble! Some of you will already be familiar with the mass breeding aggregation of Giant Australian Cuttlefish which occurs each winter in the chilly waters of Upper Spencer Gulf, South Australia. It's a remarkable thing to see- hundreds of thousands of animals up to 1 metre in length courting, fighting, displaying, disguising themselves, laying and tending their eggs... it truly is a natural wonder.

This year however, the population arriving at the breeding ground numbered just 25,000 animals. Despite being another bumper year for tourists, the number of animals was down from 250,000 the previous season. You're probably all familiar with the short-lived nature of these animals, so needless to say, there is immediate cause for concern. Other unusual observations were also made, with many of the animals' eggs failing to adhere to the undersides of the rocks where they were placed.

Unfortunately, the story gets worse. The Lowly Peninsula to which these animals migrate annually is marked for potential industrial development, several of which will further disturb their habitat and pollute their water. The most imminent proposed threat is a desalination plant to provide water to BHP Billiton's Olympic Dam mine. BHP have proposed to pump the waste-water brine back into the gulf, adjacent to the cuttlefish breeding grounds. They argue that the current and tidal flow at the position of the outflow are sufficient to disperse the brine and not impact on the cuttlefish breeding grounds. Other scientists including oceanographer Jochen Kaempf have different opinions, and have shown the risks are likely to be much greater than published in BHP Billiton's Environmental Impact Statement.

Scientists from the University of Adelaide have shown that raising salinity above 20% of the already naturally high salinity of the area results in total mortality of cuttlefish eggs, with similar results recorded in squid (who also breed in the area). The Upper Spencer Gulf is home to rocky reef, sandy bottom, mangrove, seagrass and sponge bed habitats, and it's health is critical to a wide range of marine organisms. The area is also currently marked for future Marine Park classification in 2012.

My wife and I are currently making a documentary film, online video series and are spearheading a campaign to protect these animals and their home. You can help us by signing and sharing our petition, downloading campaign posters and distributing them. There are a few other ways to help too.. we have some bumper stickers for cars and tshirts to wear to promote the cause... and we're soon to start collecting donations for our film's ongoing production.

Thanks for your support everyone... we've been recommended to raise 5000 signatures before we send out a press release nationally in Australia, and we need to reach that number as soon as possible. Thanks in advance for your compassion and support! :snorkel:


Staff member
May 30, 2000
Welcome, and thanks for the post!

If you check our Ceph News Feed forum, you'll see we've had a few discussions about the problems that you're looking to uncover. Really glad you're here, and very much looking forward to seeing this develop.

I'll stick this thread!
Sep 16, 2011
Thanks for the warm welcome, Tony.. I'll have a trawl through the previous threads and shed some light on them. The most pressing concern is the desal plant... we're expecting an announcement soon from the State Government who were itching to close the BHP Billiton Olympic Dam expansion plan ahead of our state premier's resignation on October 20th. The premier and the treasurer have been dealing with BHPB behind closed doors, and BHP Billiton have a 'no interviews' policy when it comes to the indpendent media (so we've been told). There's also a deep water port plan (to serve the mines again, but not a BHPB project specifically) which is undergoing a feasiblity study at the moment. If it progresses, it will likely involve dredging to improve access to deep (20m+) water and also disturb their rocky reef habitat to drive pilons into the sea floor. If the port goes ahead, it will be a commercial facility for the purpose of exporting minerals, which will further exclude the public and scientists from working in this area, the same way there exists an exclusion zone presently around the Port Bonython jetty there. there are alse concerns about pollutants and risks of oil spills, as occured back in 1992... we'll be releasing the information as we gather and assemble it of course. :snorkel:
Sep 16, 2011
Possible impacts on the 2011 cuttlefish breeding aggregation

neurobadger;181966 said:
What's being tossed around as hypothetical causes of the 90% drop in cuttlefish numbers?
1. Weather

The first variable being considered is weather. It's been an unusual year for the Upper Spencer Gulf. The cuttlefish generally start arriving at the breeding grounds when the water temp drops to 17 degrees C. This happened 6 weeks late this year. It was also a year of unusually high rainfall, which is likely to have had an effect on salinity and water chemistry. The best case scenario we can hope for, is that the animals are still alive elsewhere in the region and simply did not migrate this year due to unfavourable conditions.

2. Fishing Pressure

Fishing pressure is an ongoing concern for this population. A year-round cuttlefish no-take zone exists around the breeding grounds (and is likely to be extended in area soon) but where the cuttlefish specifically migrate from is unknown. It is believed by Adelaide University scientists that the population is local to the Upper Spencer Gulf region, and is likely to be a distinct species or subspecies. These animals are caught by fishers to use or sell as bait. They have been historically sold as pet food also, though I'm unsure of the current market for these animals. Cuttlefish is also a popular snackfood in Asian cultures, though I'm not sure where the commercial cuttlefish catch ends up after processing. The bag limit for recreational fishers is WAY too generous in my opinion- they are currently allowed to catch 15 animals per day, or 45 per boat. I don't know how the commercial pressure targetting cuttlefish is licensed, monitored or regulated.

3. Industrial pollution - Santos

The Santos Gas Fractionation Plant at Port Bonython has been contaminating groundwater at their site since at least 2008 (believed by some to be even earlier). Santos have attempted to prevent the leaking hydrocarbons from entering the marine environment by constructing a subterranean barrier wall, with alleged success. Little has been disclosed publicly about this matter, and Santos is currently in court with the EPA (Environmental Protection Authority) here in South Australia. The Port Bonython facility is the only industrial footprint on the peninsula and exports hydrocarbons from its 2.5 km long jetty. The rocky reef beneath and beside Santos' facility known as Stony Point, and is the popular strip for the cuttlefish to meet and breed on. It is also the most accessible dive site, with walk-in access, although divers cannot enter an exclusion zone 200 metres from their shoreline or loading facility. Anecdotal evidence suggests that the animals favour the area less and less in recent years. There was also an oil spill at the Port Bonython jetty back in 1992 which released 296 tonnes of heavy bunker fuel into the Gulf, which killed hectares of mangroves on the Port Pirie (Eastern) side of the gulf, though that incident was not likely to have effected the cuttlefish directly. Back in 1992, the cuttlefish aggregation was not documented in any way.

4. Prawn Trawlers changed their grounds

Apparently, this year the local prawn trawling fleet from south of Whyalla changed their trawling pattern/grounds. We are yet to investigate this. Trawlers pose a well described threat to bottom dwelling organisms, and are responsible for habitat degradation when they set their rigs too heavy, and drag the bottom. Bycatch in this industry is believed to be typically underreported.

5. Rising nutrient levels

Another concern is the level of nutrient in the Upper Spencer Gulf, which is skirted by marginal farming land. Unusual green 'slime' has been sighted in the gulf by local divers, though this requires further investigation.

6. Conspiracy

Another concern is the possibility of consipracy to intentionally eliminate the cuttlefish to benefit private sector commercial interests. Such an effort could be seen to have the potential to reduce the level of public resistance from a conservation perspective to the proposed developments for the peninsula (desal plant, port expansion, diesel storage, ammonium nitrate plant).

7. Fur seal predation

A group of New Zealand Fur Seals have moved into the region (less than a dozen) and some fishermen believe they have been eating cuttlefish. We have not seen or read any evidence to support this theories merits, but it's yet another sign of the changing dynamics in the region's ecology.


Staff member
Sep 4, 2006
Using the giant Australian cuttlefish (Sepia apama) mass breeding aggregation to explore the life cycle of dicyemid parasites
Sarah R. Catalano, Ian D. Whittington, Stephen C. Donnellan, Bronwyn M. Gillanders 2013 (subscription)

Dicyemid mesozoan parasites, microscopic organisms found with high intensities in the renal appendages of benthic cephalopods, have a complex, partially unknown life cycle. It is uncertain at which host life cycle stage (i.e. eggs, juvenile, adult) new infection by the dispersive infusoriform embryo occurs. As adult cephalopods have a short lifespan and die shortly after reproducing only once, and juveniles are fast-moving, we hypothesize that the eggs are the life cycle stage where new infection occurs. Eggs are abundant and sessile, allowing a huge number of new individuals to be infected with low energy costs, and they also provide dicyemids with the maximum amount of time for survival compared with infection of juvenile and adult stages. In our study we collected giant Australian cuttlefish (Sepia apama) eggs at different stages of development and filtered seawater samples from the S. apama mass breeding aggregation area in South Australia, Australia, and tested these samples for the presence of dicyemid DNA. We did not recover dicyemid parasite cytochrome c oxidase subunit I (COI) nucleotide sequences from any of the samples, suggesting eggs are not the stage where new infection occurs. To resolve this unknown in the dicyemid life cycle, we believe experimental infection is needed.


Staff member
Sep 4, 2006
Mysteries of the deep and the sex lives of cuttlefish The Sydney Morning Herald: Annabel Crabb March 30, 2014

The attention of the world has been focused for weeks on a vast expanse of the treacherous Indian Ocean, transfixed by the strange and discomfiting human tragedy of flight MH370.

It's a moment at which all our ingenuity as a species collides with the immortal implacability of the elements; all the gadgets and connectivity in the world cannot appreciably moderate the task of finding a tiny so-called black box under seven kilometres of roiling, angry water, especially when you're not sure where to look.

About 3000 kilometres to the north-east, up at the very top of the ''V'' bitten out of South Australia by the Southern Ocean, another disappearance is baffling locals.

More than a hundred thousand cross-dressing, glow-in-the-dark creatures with remote-controlled skin and three hearts apiece have disappeared, and no one knows exactly why.

The area is Point Lowly, right up the top of Spencer Gulf, where in the shallow salty waters just offshore, every winter, the Australian giant cuttlefish come to mate.

The giant cuttlefish is the strangest creature alive. It is huge - up to a metre long - with eight tentacles bunched up the front of a body shaped like a sourdough loaf, and a romantic frill running along its length.

It has an enormous brain, which resembles a doughnut.

The pupils in its outsized, expressive eyes are shaped like a W; it is colour blind, sadly, but the eyes are among the most developed in the animal kingdom, which is reassuring given the sorts of things it will witness during mating season, which I shall outline shortly.

And yes - it has three hearts. They pump the cuttlefish's blood, which is blue, thus establishing a prima facie case to recommend the creature for an Abbott knighthood (although realistically there would be strong protest from Cory Bernardi, owing to its sexual habits).

Of all the strange attributes of the giant cuttlefish, its skin is the most magical.

It is smooth, but laced with tiny muscles that allow it to become knobbly.

The cuttlefish is known as the ''Chameleon of the Sea'', because it can change colour at will; moody mottled brown, iridescent blue, pale green, sudden stripes.

When especially excited, patterns will actually appear to flow along its flanks; a magical glowing ripple effect, like a 1950s TV, slightly off-station, in a shop window at night.

''Man is the only creature that blushes. Or needs to,'' said Mark Twain, but one imagines he had not encountered the giant cuttlefish.

Scientists at Harvard announced in January that they had successfully reverse-engineered cuttlefish skin, in the hope of one day building adaptive camouflage gear for humans, which would certainly make life easier for sailors currently obliged to cover themselves in cephalopods for the same effect.

But the most charmingly preposterous thing about the Australian giant cuttlefish is its sex life.

The reason Point Lowly is famous among cuttle-fanciers is that this unassuming little spot is - every winter - the site of an all-in, depraved cuttlefish orgy, a festival of invertebrate concupiscence unchallenged anywhere else in the world.

Males outnumber females by about eight to one, and are thus obliged to put on incredible psychedelic displays; pulsating zebra stripes, patterns, wild flashes of colour; it's like watching a hundred thousand iPads trying to have sex.

The big ones tend to win out, so the smaller males do something quite unusual; they switch from gaudy ''male'' colours to more muted female ones, and - while thus cross-dressed - slip into the fray hoping for a sly shag.

The giant cuttlefish lives for only two years, and after this winter Mardi Gras, it will slink off and die, ideally to become a calcium supplement for the Giant Budgie.

But the mystery of Point Lowly is this: in recent years, the cuttlefish have disappeared.

From the erotic heights of 1999, when nearly 200,000 of them gathered for a frenzied bout of ''squid pro quo'', numbers have fallen by 90 per cent and now barely 13,000 rock up.

This year, with winter approaching, locals and tourism operators hope for the best, but fear the worst.

The Spencer Gulf population is regarded by some scientists as a unique cuttlefish species. Where has it gone?

And is it gone for ever?

The creature and its eggs are microscopically sensitive to changes in salinity. And to noise.

And their kinky party-pad is surrounded by shipping lanes, aquaculture projects, the Port Bonython hydrocarbon processing plant and a proposed desalination plant for BHP Billiton.

The specific cause remains a mystery, but the evidence suggests that one of the world's great marine spectacles is soon to be a memory.

The ocean is full of unanswered questions.

Read more: http://www.smh.com.au/national/the-...uid-pro-quo-20140329-35q8n.html#ixzz2xO5olUx7
Last edited:


Staff member
Sep 4, 2006
Giant Australian cuttlefish swarm back to SA Spencer Gulf breeding site

Hundreds of giant Australian cuttlefish have swum into breeding grounds at the top of Spencer Gulf in South Australia, reversing a worrying decline of recent years.
The population had been dwindling and local diver Tony Bramley says he had not been expecting to see any this season, based on that trend.
He says it has been warmer-than-usual weather for the start of the breeding season and more cuttlefish might arrive as temperatures drop.
Mr Bramley says he does not know where the cuttlefish have travelled from as there has been no sign of many gathering offshore in recent weeks.
Cuttlefish research efforts include:
  • Monitoring breeding aggregation in northern Spencer Gulf to check numbers, water quality and state of habitat.
  • Looking at potential alternative cuttlefish spawning areas in northern Spencer Gulf.
  • Determining the habitat preferred by cuttlefish when laying eggs, to aid research into artificial habitats which might promote breeding.
"It's just baffling to see that many cuttlefish after the year that we had last year," he said.
"I'm really at a loss to explain how they've recovered so quickly, I mean it's wonderful to see that.
"It just proves that, no matter what you think you might know, nature can always surprise you, because it's out of left field. I really didn't expect anything like what we saw."
Mr Bramley says cuttlefish numbers are better than they have been in the past three years but still low overall.
"Now to be fair we've only dived Black Point, so we haven't been through the rest of the aggregating sites."
Federal and state funding has supported research into cuttlefish breeding in northern Spencer Gulf since the decline in numbers was noted.

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