Chameleons of the sea

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  • Underwater, SA

Chameleons of the sea

The number of the spectacular giant Australian cuttlefish is on the rise.

Story Gretel Sneath  Photo Carl Charter   

Whyalla in South Australia’s Iron Triangle is undergoing an industrial revolution after British billionaire steel magnate Sanjeev Gupta bought the financially embattled steelworks in August 2017, securing the regional city’s future – and thousands of jobs – in the process. Just off the Whyalla coastline, at nearby Point Lowly, a priceless underwater eco-revolution is underway, with a unique colony of giant Australian cuttlefish also now facing a more certain future. 

Numbers of the cuttlefish are on the rise, with more than 150,000 of the alien-like cephalopods recorded in the latest underwater count conducted by the South Australian Research and Development Institute (SARDI). Senior research scientist Dr Mike Steer says numbers increased by more than 25,000 between 2017 and 2018. “This is only 17 percent less than the peak estimate of 182,585 individuals in 1999,” Mike says. “Our research indicates that the population remains strong in comparison to previous years.”

It is a significant turnaround given that Point Lowly’s cuttlefish numbers plunged to 13,000 earlier this decade, prompting fears they would be wiped out. “Everybody panicked when the numbers weren’t there,” says local diver Tony Bramley, who first witnessed the winter phenomenon in 1979, when the water was thick with the graceful creatures.

“There is nothing else like it; they look like they come from outer space as they’re really that different, and we just enjoyed it right through the ’80s,” he says. “We were looking at up to 200,000 of them along a few kilometres of coastline; it’s pretty impressive.”

This story excerpt is from Issue #123

Outback Magazine: February/March 2019

2019-03-18T14:14:22+10:00January 22nd, 2019|Categories: Nature, Stories|Tags: |
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