Missing: South Australia’s ocean giant

There is a giant in the oceans of South Australia that’s missing in action

Do you know who I am?

Normally, my species have a mass spawning event, over May- August for a mate. We compete so furiously for a mate that when we have found a mate and have reproduced we die. Legend has it that the South Australian Spawning event is a one of a kind event across the world.
I have special cells called Chromatophores that allow me to change colour and camouflage. This allows me to imitate rocks, seaweeds and even sand. Yes, I am THAT good.
I am great at throwing off a potential predator by shooting out ink as a diversion. I can make an ink cloud the same shape as me, whilst I swim away. You could even call me a shape shifter.
I am colour blind, but I use polarised light to detect my prey.

Oh, yes and I’m really smart. Apparently I am one of the smartest species in the ocean.

Alright, I can’t keep you guessing any longer – I’m an Australian Giant Cuttle or Sepia apama!

I'm beautiful, if I do say so myself.

[ Source:http://resources2.news.com.au/images/2011/07/23/1226100/434426-cuttlefish.jpg]

Well okay, you got me – clearly I, the author of this blog post, am not a Giant Cuttle!

It has been quite shocking to learn about the decline that has been noticed of Giant Cuttle in the South Australian breeding ground. The species has now been listed as “Near Threatened” by the IUCN.

There have been a lot of articles recently about the decline seen in Giant Cuttle, but cause of the decline is not really known. According to sources, a couple of years ago, the giant cuttle covered the ocean floor, and now there are only 10 seen on a 1.5km stretch.

I was lucky enough to talk to a number of people who have been to see the spawning aggregation, and they have said that it is no doubt one of the most amazing things to witness. The spawning aggregation did not occur this year. Divers around the area have been reported as saying that the low numbers could mean the end of the spawning aggregation for good. A spawning aggregation of this size occurs no where else in the world and is unique to Point Lowly.

A task force has been set up to monitor and attempt to understand more about the species. I hope that the research continues and is able to draw some conclusions on what is actually occurring with the Point Lowly population.

Development Vs. Conservation
Close to Point Lowly is the mining town of Whyalla which continues to boom. Developments near Point Lowly continue to be proposed. A Catalyst show from a while ago looked at the problems associated with development and conservation of the Point Lowly population.

For now Point Lowly has been saved – The Olympic Dam development proposed by BHP Billiton has been put on hold.

Will the Giant Cuttle win the battle?
Hopefully! But given their short life cycle, and the direct correlation between the previous years spawning aggregation success and the next years total population it is unlikely there will be a change. We may have lost one of the worlds wonders for good.

I know I’ve been a bit depressing about Giant Cuttle going missing – It even made me a bit sad writing this post… So I’ll leave you with a super cool video which cheered me up and shows how cool the camouflage mechanisms in Cephalopods (Squid, Octopus and Cuttle) really are!

The video is narrated partly by Roger Hanlon, a Cepalopod expert. Source: Youtube

5 Responses to “Missing: South Australia’s ocean giant”

  1. π says:

    I was recently involved in research for a documentary on the plight of the cuttlefish and the impacts of development on the Port Lowly Peninsula. Dan and Emma—the producers—have been working tirelessly researching, interviewing and filming the story as it unfolds. Their passion goes way beyond reward and recognition, and they have been living on minimal income for a couple of years to keep the project going. The doco, called Cuttlefish Country, is expected to be completed some time this year. I’m excited to see the final product… Keep an eye out for it!


  2. Amanda says:

    Hm, Alain, it was not my intention to blame miners here, and I am sorry if I have given you that impression. Rather I was trying hard to highlight that there is always a struggle between conservation and development.

    I’ve even said in my post that scientists don’t know what the cause of the decline is. I was trying to communicate that in the light of further development, given the current decline, it is better to try and gain more knowledge about what the actual impact is.

  3. Alain says:

    I wouldn’t rush to blame the miners here. There has been mining around Whyalla for decades and the decline of the cuttle is a very recent phenomenon. It might be that some pollutant has reached a tipping point, but there could also be other completely unrelated causes at play.

    I’m all for keeping the miners honest, but let’s not blame them without any evidence (well, none I can see in your post, anyway).

  4. Amanda says:

    Thanks for your comment on my post Steven.
    Yeah, thats a point I was going to touch on in my post….. BHP Billiton are explicit in saying that they will get the Olympic Dam expansion on the go in the next couple of years…. I just wish they could select somewhere further away from Point Lowly!!!

    In fact, out of all the Environmental Effects Statements that I have read, it appears that BHP Billiton has actually spent a lot of money and time on actually researching the Giant Cuttle’s behaviour and ecology. There is a lot in the appendix of the Olympic Dam proposal – the level of detail actually shocked me. I am hoping that the current rapid decline will trigger some sort of further protection for the giant Cuttle.

    Initially the Olympic dam proposal triggered the EPBC (Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation) Act, in which the federal government approved the development with conditions. But I think that further controls are required given the current situation…. there is currently research being conducted and an exclusion zone in place…. However, that might not be enough…
    I am *hoping* that in the mean time the processes that are occurring with giant cuttle can be further understood. Given there has been so much public uproar about the development, hopefully BHP Billiton will work with the community to partly fund research into the amazing Giant Cuttle.

  5. Dewar says:

    It is unfortunate that mining discoveries and expansions can have such an influence on the environment. While the Olympic Dam development has been put on hold, I have no doubt that in the next few years it will recommence. Lets just hope they are aware and can do something about saving the Giant Cuttle and other endangered species!