An influx of long-nosed fur seals could pose a threat to the cuttlefish population in the waters around Whyalla and Point Lowly and the economic boost the aggregation provides for local businesses.
At least a dozen of fur seals have eaten hundreds of cuttlefish along the pellet plant wall at the Whyalla Foreshore in the past week, and Whyalla Dive Shop owner Tony Bramely expects them to move on to Black Point and Stony Point soon.
While it’s unlikely the small group of fur seals will make a dent in the thousands of cuttlefish which have shown up this year, Mr Bramley is concerned about the ramifications of more showing up next year.
“If they turn up in huge numbers then they could wipe out all the cuttlefish before they get a chance to put an egg down,” he said
The population of long-nosed fur seals has been gradually rebuilding after almost being eradicated by commercial sealing in the early 1800s.
The fur seals practically wiped out the fairy penguin population in Kangaroo Island, killing around 5000 of the little marine animals several years ago.
“They are predators that are capable of doing horrendous damage,” Mr Bramley said.
If something similar were to happen to the cuttlefish in the watera around Point Lowly, it would be devastating for Whyalla’s economy.
Accommodation houses, restaurants, fuel stops, food stores and more all benefit from the tourism that the cuttlefish aggregation generates.
Mr Bramley believes this year has been one of the best in terms of cuttlefish numbers, making it the third year in a row that thousands of cuttlefish have visited the coastline around Whyalla.
“People plan holidays here in confidence that the cuttlefish will show up,” he said.
“It would be a real shame if we got into a situation where one species we’re trying to look after destroys another.”
Unfortunately cuttlefish season coincides with the aggregation of the fur seals, which only visit the waters around Whyalla in the winter.
Cuttlefish are generally helpless to protect themselves against fur seals – their methods of defence include camouflage, spraying ink, and finally contorting themselves to hide in small crevasses between rocks.
But all of these are ineffective against the seals, which can easily pull them cuttlefish out of their hiding places.
Mr Bramley concedes there aren’t many solutions to the problem fur seals pose for cuttlefish, with action depending on how many fur seals show up next year.