What’s this cuddle kerfuffle?
As I try and take my mind away from all the recent COVID19 news, I remember a time before this pandemic. My friends and I organised a snorkelling trip back in 2016 to Point Lowly, about half an hour’s drive from Whyalla. It’s the middle of winter and we’re hoping to go underwater and witness cuddle time — the Giant Cuttlefish breeding aggregation. They can grow as long as 50 centimetres and weigh up to 10 kilograms. The waters in South Australia is one of the very few places where they annually gather in such great numbers to breed and this all happens during wintertime.
Cuttlefish are able to change their colour, shape, and texture to allow themselves to camouflage against seaweed, rocks, and the sandy floor. Scientists have observed that the aggregations in Whyalla tend to have a gender imbalance with males competing for mating privileges with the outnumbered female. This intense natural mass behaviour produces a spectacular underwater display of colour and movement. Researchers theorise that the cuttles congregate here because of the many rocky ledges found off the coast of the Upper Spencer Gulf Marine Park which are suitable for laying eggs.
Although the water was chilly (it is the middle of winter), the water is very shallow and you can access using the boardwalk on Stony Point. It was breathtaking to be able to watch the Giant Cuttlefish in less than a metre of water. It was a magical few days, witnessing such a colourful dance-off, a local natural phenomenon unique from across the globe. It was equally wonderful being able to surface and share the experience with friends. We organised a talk in the evening as well where we invited marine biologists, local community members, and other fellow divers to speak.
Back then, humans too, could gather in large numbers. I remember the week-long event was exceptionally attended, with at least 70 people there. 2020 has made us adapt to a new normal and I find it amazing how lots of us have really done our bit to keep each other safe. While the changes above-water have been immense, it was comforting to hear this week that the Giant Cuttlefish have still returned this year. They are in the midst of their yearly spectacular cuddle time.