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Last weekend Spunky Abe and I took a 14 hr road trip to visit the beginning of the giant cuttlefish mating aggregation in Whyalla, South Australia. Our good friend and long-time dive buddy Mark met us there and we did a total of two dives with these magnificent creatures.
Each year when the water temperature begins to drop, thousands of giant cuttlefish (also known as sepia apama) make their way into the shallows of the remote coastal town of Whyalla.
There the males can outnumber the females 11:1, resulting in some spectacular efforts on the part of each male to prove himself a worthy mate.
The males will dazzle potential mates with extraordinary strobing patterns across their bodies. They flex their longest tentacles, the largest suitors impressing the lady of their choice with their superior size and grace. Competition is fierce and ranges from males out-dancing one another to fighting one another, sometimes even to the death.
Smaller males have no option other than to resort to subterfuge, masquerading as females to sneak beneath the radar of larger males that may do them harm. Once the larger male has successfully mated head to head with the female, inserting his sperm into a space within her body, alongside the sperm of the many others she may agree to mate with.
A few hours later, the female will select which donations she will use to fertilise her eggs, attaching them beneath ledges from which the new generation of cuttlefish will emerge.
Neither parent will ever see the new hatchlings; nor will they return to deeper waters. Once their mating duties are completed, both adult males and females will perish, literally disintegrating in the water, their internal shell (commonly known as ‘cuttlefish bone’) leaving one last tell-tale sign of their existence upon the nearby shore. Usually they have lived no more than 18 months, and suspended in the water beside a mate, they seem to have a strange, knowing acceptance of the inevitability of their impending demise.
The opportunity to observe the mating aggregation of these majestic creatures first hand is sweet and sad, filled with moments of tranquility and intensity. And though as humans we marvel at the undeniable intelligence and ingenuity on display, there are moments when we can feel as though we too are being observed as objects of wonder by these majestic creatures as they briefly share their watery space.
Life is filled with many blissful mysteries. It is my enormous privilege to be able to share this one with you.
Love and bubbles,
ps Due to some technical difficulties, I have many more giant cuttlefish images to add to this post over the coming days, so feel free to come back for another look soon 😀
ps Tanks so much for reading this blog post. While you are here, please check out some more of my ‘scuba vs tumour’ underwater adventures … 🙂
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