Giant Australian Cuttlefish in South Australian waters

Project Number:



University of Adelaide North Terrace Campus

Principal Investigator:

Bronwyn M. Gillanders

Project Status:


FRDC Expenditure:




Final Report - 2013-010-DLD - Giant Australian cuttlefish in South Australian waters

Final Report
Author(s):Bronwyn M. Gillanders
Date Published:December 2016
Principal Investigator: Bronwyn Gillanders
Key Words: Giant Australian cuttlefish; Sepia apama; Point Lowly; Whyalla; Upper Spencer Gulf; South Australia
Summary: The iconic giant Australian cuttlefish, Sepia apama, is the largest cuttlefish species in the world, and forms an extraordinary breeding aggregation on a small stretch of rock reef in Upper Spencer Gulf (USG), South Australia. This research, coordinated by the University of Adelaide, was undertaken to address key knowledge gaps relating to movement and population structure, as well as factors contributing to population viability and commenced following dramatic declines in abundance at the breeding aggregation location. The research used a range of approaches including statolith and cuttlebone chemistry, next generation nucleotide sequencing, and population viability modelling. Results confirmed that within Spencer Gulf there are two highly resolved genetic clusters with significant levels of divergence and no evidence of recent hybridisation or introgression. The southernmost extent of the northern genetic cluster was -33.828° latitude and the northern most extent of the southern genetic cluster was -33.502° demonstrating some overlap. Our data suggest that these two clusters can be considered two separate species. A spatial age-structured population model was used for scenario testing of different potential threats to the USG cuttlefish population. This model indicated that by-catch due to prawn trawling and cuttlefish harvesting away from the breeding aggregations pose negligible risks to the population, but the population’s viability could be compromised by increased mortality of embryos along the aggregation site prior to hatching and increased adult mortality if there is an increase in harvesting at the breeding grounds. Consequently, the continued closure of the aggregation site to cuttlefish harvesting is expected to improve the viability of the northern Spencer Gulf population.


1. Determine the movement throughout the life history and finer scale population structure of the giant Australian cuttlefish in Upper Spencer Gulf.

2. Resolve the systematic status of the USG giant Australian cuttlefish to determine the extent of its geographic boundaries.

3. Develop an integrated model that assesses and evaluates the response of the USG population to environmental and anthropogenic factors and thereby assess population viability.