South Australia’s Spencer Gulf is home to one of the planet’s most intelligent creatures and indeed the only place in the world where the Australian Giant Cuttlefish congregate in huge proportions. Chris and Laura Travels had a chat with award winning international wildlife photographer Scott Portelli to tell us why we need to protect this iconic species.

Far fetched to find anybody else on the planet who has spent more time documenting and photographing wildlife both underwater and above it than Internationally acclaimed, award winning Australian wildlife photographer Scott Portelli.

Scotts work has seen him venture the world all the way from the middle of the South pacific of Tonga, to the freezing depths of Antarctica where he spends his days filming Orcas, whales and everything in between.

The winner of over 16 prestigious international awards by National Geographic, BBC and Australian Geographic.

There is one area of focus Scott has a particular interest in both conservation and documentation; Australian Giant Cuttlefish.

In line with our Sustainable Tourism series we take a deep dive (no pun intended) into the world of the Australian Giant Cuttlefish with Scott and what we all should do to preserve and protect one of Australia’s most precious wildlife.

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Australian Giant Cuttlefish in Whyalla, South Australia – Image courtesy of Scott Portelli

What are Australian Giant Cuttlefish?

The Cuttlefish is part of the cephalopod group, which includes squid, octopuses, and nautilus. 

Cephalopods are considered highly intelligent and Australian Giant Cuttlefish have one of the largest brains of any marine invertebrate.

There are very few creatures in the animal kingdom that are so complex, so unique and so alien to us that we are mystified by their very existence. 

Imagine a creature that has three hearts, blue blood, and the ability to alter its appearance; that’s exactly what the Australian Giant Cuttlefish are capable of.

Cuttlefish Quick Facts:

  • Cuttlefish are colour blind and have a ‘W’ shaped pupil allowing them to see forwards and backwards simultaneously.
  • Australian Giant Cuttlefish have 3 hearts, blue blood, 8 arms and 2 feeding tentacles
  • the term ‘Cephalopod’ comes from the Greek root for head-foot, as their arms are attached to their head and not their body.

Where do Australian Giant Cuttlefish live?

The Australian Giant Cuttlefish of Whyalla congregate en masse every mid-year only at Point Lowly, Whyalla in the Spencer Gulf. 

It is not clear where the Australian Giant Cuttlefish migrate from or how they know to come to this one specific location. 

Whether it is the underwater terrain, safety from predators, a food source for the hatchlings or simply a location with ideal conditions for all of the above. 

Generally speaking the Giant Cuttlefish season in 2021 lasts from around May to July.

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A single Australian Giant Cuttlefish under the light of the sun in Whyalla, South Australia

Why are the Australian Giant Cuttlefish fished?

Things changed significantly for the Australian Giant Cuttlefish population of the upper Spencer Gulf back in 1997 when about 250,000 of them—roughly 250 tons—were taken during the annual aggregation by commercial fishermen for export to Southeast Asia. 

By 2013 the survey recorded a total population of 13,492, meaning a 97 percent decline of Australian Giant Cuttlefish.

In 2013 and 2014 a crash in the population occurred and the proposal of a fishing ban was put in place at all times of the Australian Giant cuttlefish season. 

It wasn’t too long before the numbers started to increase, but nowhere near what they were before the fishing ban.

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What are the likely impacts on the Australian Giant Cuttlefish?

Australian Giant Cuttlefish
Giant Cuttlefish belong to a group of marine creatures known as Cephalopods

The Australian Giant Cuttlefish season only lasts so long, so the opportunity for mating & perpetuating their species is limited. 

Their lifespan is only 2 years and the instinct to mate is built into their DNA. 

This is the one and only chance for these endemic invertebrates to perpetuate the species. 

If there is an unsuccessful mating season this could wipe out the population all together. 

What measures are in place to protect the species?

In 2013 and 2014 a crash in the population of the Australian Giant Cuttlefish occurred and the proposal of a fishing ban was put in place. 

It wasn’t too long before the numbers started to increase, but nowhere near what they were before the fishing ban. 

After 5 years the population has now seen a substantial recovery, Unfortunately the Government body PIRSA and former Minister Tim Whetstone lifted the ban on fishing these creatures right before the mating aggregation could commence in 2020. 

This could devastate the population and see a crash in the numbers that may not allow for recovery of these endemic invertebrates.

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Whilst this is a big win for the Australian Giant Cuttlefish, Scott highlights that this is not enough to protect the species as significant loop holes exist in the protection zones.

The issue is the migratory paths that these cuttlefish travel through to get to their mating grounds are not protected, so whilst the breeding grounds themselves have protection, the underwater channels that the Giant Cuttlefish use are exposed and threatened by by recreational and commercial fisheries.

The latest update on the Primary Industries and Regions website states:

As a precautionary measure, a permanent cephalopod (squid, cuttlefish, octopus) fishing closure in the False Bay/Point Lowly spawning area is in place to protect the only known dense aggregation of Giant Cuttlefish in the world. 

This closure prohibits the capture of any cephalopods within the area at all times

You can find a map for the protected zone here 

Still the statistics are horrible and the rules set in place by PIRSA are insufficient and seem to miss the whole point of conservation. 

These are the restrictions on fishing the cuttlefish from the PIRSA website:

  • No minimum size
  • Personal daily bag limits: Either 15 Cuttlefish or a combined total of 15 Squid and Cuttlefish
  • Daily boat limit when 3 or more people are fishing on board: Either 45 Cuttlefish or a combined total of 45 Cuttlefish and Squid

What can people do to help protect the Australian Giant Cuttlefish?

A few avenues exist for everyday people to keep up to date with the latest information on the Australian Giant Cuttlefish protection, group events organised in Whyalla, public gatherings in support of protection etc.

Last year a petition was released advocating the reinstatement of a commercial and recreational fishing ban that had been lifted last year.

You can use this link here to take you to the petition website where you can sign in support of the ban being re-instated

There is also a Facebook group organised to provide current and up to date information on the progress

How can people interact with and experience a swim with Australian Giant Cuttlefish?

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Scott Portelli diving with a group of Australian Giant Cuttlefish off Point Lowly in South Australia’s Whyalla

In the cool winter months around May to June, Scott Portelli leads a Giant Cuttlefish photography expedition tour through Whyalla for the first week of June.

Scott’s workshop includes expert advice from a marine biologist, photography tutorials and advice from Scott himself, transports between sites, dive equipment and more. 

A once in a lifetime chance to get up close and personal with Whyalla Cuttlefish.

For more information you can use the link below, head over to Scott’s website and book your trip right here – Scott Portelli Dive with the Giant Cuttlefish 

Whyalla

Where is Whyalla?

Nestled deep in the Spencer Gulf on the Eyre Peninsula opposite the Yorke Peninsula on South Australia’s hidden coastline is the quiet town of Whyalla.

Whyalla is known for its large retail sector which provides shopping precincts to the local Eastern Eyre Peninsula population.

In most recent years a new Jetty was erected off the Whyalla Marina and has attracted pods of Bottlenose Dolphins for some years now.

How do you get to Whyalla?

Driving from Adelaide will see you road trip across all three Peninsulas (Fleurieu, Yorke and Eyre) and take you 4 hours and 20 minutes in total.

Both Qantas Link and Rex Air fly domestically to and from Whyalla from Adelaide International airport for around $3-400 AUD.

Visit the Qanats Link and the Rex Air websites for up to date flight information.

Best things to do in Whyalla in 2021

Whyalla is not a large town by any standard and in ways this is what gives it such a unique charm.

If you love being in and around nature then head down to the new Whyalla Jetty at the marina and walk around this newly constructed one of a kind Jetty anywhere in the southern hemisphere.

Bottlenose dolphins frequent the jetty so there’s every chance to see these guys up close and personal. 

Every June-August Whyalla also plays home to the largest congregation of Giant Cuttlefish anywhere in the world at Point Lowly. 

Whyalla also hosts a large congregation of visitors to the town for the annual Cuttlefest, which showcases the love for cuttlefish.

Everything from art work, competitions and of course diving and snorkelling with Australian Giant Cuttlefish.

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Chris and Laura Travels would love to thank Scott Portelli for allowing us the time to chat with us about these beautiful creatures and share with our readers important information about the state of Australian Wildlife.

All images sourced on this article have bene reproduced with the expressed permission of Scott Portelli – for more information you can head over to his website at –http://www.scottportelli.com/

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