Are our cuttlefish extinct?

Whyalla's cuttlefish may be a thing of the past, just like the Tasmanian tiger or the dodo, after a near non-existent breeding season this year.

Local diver Tony Bramley said the days of the local Giant Australian Cuttlefish population were numbered with no sightings of eggs this year.

“I believe we've lost this aggregation,” Mr Bramley said.

The local cuttlefish population covers an area from Port Augusta to Cowell but they specifically migrate to Point Lowly each year for the right conditions to breed.

However Mr Bramley said with last year's breeding season doing poorly, this year the number of cuttlefish sighted was almost non-existent. 

“This year we had virtually none,” Mr Bramley said. 

Mr Bramley estimated numbers to be as low as about 6000 compared to 78,000 counted by the South Australian Research and Development Institute last year.

Prior to last year, cuttlefish numbers had been recorded around the 200,000 mark since scientific recording had started more than 10 years ago.

Last year's falling numbers were attributed to a delayed onset of colder weather conditions as well as a fur seal colony taking up residence in the area.

Mr Bramley believed the Whyalla population was now lost with the numbers this year too low for them to successfully survive. 

“This population in Whyalla is a separate genetic pool, we can't go get more from Sydney or Perth,” Mr Bramley said.

"We have lost this separate genetic population, it can't be replaced.

“It's gone.”

Mr Bramley said it was a tragedy that the population could be wiped out so quickly and said more may have been done if the cuttlefish could be shared with more of the population instead of just divers or snorkelers.

“If these were koalas or kangaroos that everyone can see, it would be different,” Mr Bramley said.

Mr Bramley said while pointing the finger would not bring the cuttlefish back, he believed the government had a large role to play in accountability.

The impact on cuttlefish numbers due to commercial fishing in 1997 and 1998 was a detrimental move by the government, Mr Bramley said.

"I believe the rest of the world will hold us accountable for this," Mr Bramley said.

Mr Bramley said commercial fishing being allowed was in complete defiance of the precautionary principle that Australia was party to.

"We've wiped out one of the most amazing marine wonders for a few bucks," Mr Bramley said.

Mr Bramley believed prior to commercial fishing being allowed, the number of cuttlefish could well have been in the millions. 

Since then, numbers have been counted at around 200,000 and in the last 10 to 12 years the aggregation has been protected, but Mr Bramley believed this to be a bare minimum of the original population.

"That protection was just enough to sustain the population, just enough to keep it ticking over," Mr Bramley said.

Mr Bramley said Whyalla would now bear the impact of losing this natural wonder as a tourist attraction.

"It cost the community nothing, we didn't have to spend dollars to protect or look after it," Mr Bramley said.

"This community should hang its head in shame because we haven't done anything to save them."


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