Snorkelling, diving or viewing the Whyalla cuttlefish from a glass bottom boat is one of the best wildlife experiences you can have. From May to the end of August, Whyalla, at the top of the Eyre Peninsula in South Australia, sees thousands of cuttlefish arrive at the heritage listed Cuttlefish Coast Sanctuary Zone around Point Lowly to breed.
What makes this experience so good is that the cuttlefish are within metres of shore so swimmers of all abilities can see these intriguing creatures. Their pulsating colours, huge eyes and long arms make them a fascinating sight.
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- When can you see the Whyalla Cuttlefish?
- Where can you see Whyalla Cuttlefish?
- How to see the Whyalla Cuttlefish?
- What will you see when you snorkel with the Whyalla Cuttlefish?
- Whyalla Cuttlefish FAQ’s
- Getting to Whyalla
- Whyalla Accommodation
- Other Things to do in Whyalla
When can you see the Whyalla Cuttlefish?
The giant cuttlefish start appearing in May but the best time to see the cuttlefish is June and July. Their numbers start to thin out in August. Depending on the season, even in early August the congregation can be over. For timely updates contact the Whyalla Visitor Centre.
We found mornings were the best time of day to see the Whyalla cuttlefish. There was less wind in the morning, so the water wasn’t as stirred up. If you can time your snorkel with an incoming tide, you’ll find the cuttlefish get pushed even closer to shore.
Where can you see Whyalla Cuttlefish?
The cuttlefish breeding grounds are 30 minutes from the centre of Whyalla. They stretch from Fitzgerald Bay, around Point Lowly to Black Point and False Bay. A spot called Stony Point is the most popular place for getting into the water to swim with the cuttlefish. Look for the turn off from Port Bonython Road as you drive towards Point Lowly.
Stony Point has plenty of parking, change rooms, toilets, a shelter and the best set up for entering the water. As the name suggests, the foreshore around here is quite rocky and negotiating it with your snorkelling gear, let alone a scuba rig, can be a bit tricky. Stony Point has a boardwalk and chain handrail to help you into the water over the uneven surface.
There will be fewer people away from Stony Point. If you opt to see them closer to Point Lowly be aware of the currents that are stronger there and look out for boats. You can also get into the water closer to Black Point but there aren’t any facilities and parking and getting to the water is trickier.
How to see the Whyalla Cuttlefish?
Whyalla Cuttlefish Snorkel
The easiest and most popular way to see the Whyalla Cuttlefish is to snorkel with them. You can see the cuttlefish in as little as 1 or 2 metres of water. Even though you are on the surface you will need a full-length wetsuit, boots, gloves and a hood.
While you will need your face mask and snorkel, you could do the activity without fins. There are so many cuttlefish, you don’t have to cover a big area so if you are a bit uncomfortable kicking with fins you can get away without them.
If you travel with young swimmers, we saw some families take to the water with lilos. Because the water is shallow and quite clear, the kids were able to lie down with a facemask and snorkel and see the cuttlefish as they floated around. It’s a good option if you haven’t mastered using fins or want to avoid the worst of the cold water.
Read More : More great snorkelling in South Australia
Whyalla Cuttlefish Glass Bottom Boat Tour
If you prefer the idea of staying dry and warm, you can do a glass bottom boat tour over the cuttlefish. Cruise operator Cuttys run a Whyalla Giant Cuttlefish Glass Bottom Boat Tour from May to June. These small group tours leave from Point Lowly.
You have a roof over your head, and the tour goes out regardless of the weather – so dress warm! The cruises run multiple times a day and are both a great way to get lots of information about the cuttlefish from a knowledgeable guide, and a chance to see some of Whyalla’s other marine life.
- Book your Glass Bottom Boat Tour – Glass Bottom Boat | Cuttys Tours
Dive with the Giant Cuttlefish
Even though Whyalla’s giant cuttlefish are in shallow water, diving is a popular way to view them. It is not a deep dive, you’ll be in 4-6 metres of water, but diving is the perfect way to get up close to the cuttlefish and feel a part of their world. Even though it is a shallow dive, you can expect to be in the water for less than 60 minutes. All the divers we spoke to came out feeling really excited about the dive but very cold.
Cuttlefish Snorkelling & Diving Guided Tours
If you want your Whyalla cuttlefish swim to be hassle free, you can go on snorkelling and dive tours. Whyalla Diving Services, PureSA, and Experiencing Marine Sanctuaries (EMS) all offer either snorkelling or scuba packages. If you are a bit nervous about the water and want a snorkelling buddy, one on one guided swims are also available.
Having said all that, if you are comfortable in the water and have the right gear, this is the type of snorkel you can manage on your own. You are in shallow, generally calm water and the cuttlefish are easy to spot.
What equipment do you need to swim with the Cuttlefish?
The one thing you need to be ready for is the cold. In winter, South Australian waters are between 12 and 15 degrees so be ready to cover yourself in neoprene. You will need a full length 5mm (but preferably) 7mm wetsuit, gloves, boots and a hood. We opted not to get a hood and regretted it. When the water hits your head, we sure knew we were alive!
We have snorkelled in the chilly Ewens and Piccaninnie Ponds and the shallow Whyalla water in winter was colder. It was about 12 degrees for our swims in June. Have something warm to change into for when you get out.
If you have a waterproof camera or GoPro, bring it along because you can get some amazing pictures.
Whyalla Wetsuit Hire
In Whyalla you can hire all the equipment you need from Whyalla Diving Services. They recommend you book a time to get your gear fitted at the time of collection. We hired our wetsuits from a local dive shop in Adelaide so we could drive straight to the coast and start snorkelling. It is not important where you get your gear, just make sure you are prepared for the conditions.
What will you see when you snorkel with the Whyalla Cuttlefish?
Lots and lots of giant cuttlefish, this isn’t like trying to spot a leafy sea dragon! There are cuttlefish everywhere and seeing them in such numbers is an amazing sight. They are extraordinary looking creatures. Here is what to expect:
- Size – cuttlefish can be up to 60cm long and weigh 10kg
- Tentacles and arms – cuttlefish have 8 long arms and 2 feeding tentacles flaring from their head. They mate head-to-head, with their arms entwined.
- Chameleons of the sea – one of the most striking things you will see is how they change colour. Watch them swim over different surfaces and waves of colour will pulse across their body. It is incredible to watch, you will think you’re seeing things. Their ability to change color is used as camouflage against predators and to compete for mates with other males.
- Shape-shifters – Cuttlefish can not only change colour, but they can also change shape and texture. As you snorkel, you’ll see the different shapes they can take. You’ll also see their texture changes as they swim or rest next to a rock.
- They can swim forwards and backwards – cuttlefish can swim head or tail first, propelled either by a jet of water from their siphon or the rhythmic undulations of their fins.
If you are the home of the biggest congregation of giant cuttlefish in the world, of course you are going to celebrate it. Whyalla does just that with Cuttlefest that runs between June and August. The highlight of Cuttlefest is the Community Celebration Day which has stalls, food, bands activities for the kids and a VR cuttlefish display. Then there are other cuttlefish related activities including movie screenings, citizen science events, markets and cuttlefish themed fun at sites around Whyalla.
Whyalla Cuttlefish Photography
One of the amazing things about this experience is that you can get so close to the cuttlefish. So often in a marine environment you find yourself chasing fast moving creatures but that is not the case here. The cuttlefish are so intent on breeding they are little bothered by people. You won’t need a zoom lens; even though it is a no-no, you will be close enough to touch them.
If you have a waterproof camera, you will get some great pictures. We found visibility is best in the mornings. The other challenge for snorkellers is getting down to the cuttlefish while you are wearing so much neoprene. If you are a keen photographer, maybe think about wearing a weight belt. Or (if you trust your snorkelling buddy) you can do what we did and take turns holding each other underwater – that’s how shallow it is!
Whyalla Cuttlefish FAQ’s
Why do the giant Australian cuttlefish come to Whyalla?
Whyalla is unique in the world for its wintertime aggregation of giant cuttlefish. Nowhere else on the planet do they come together in such large numbers to spawn. So, what is the attraction of the shallow waters near the industrial city of Whyalla?
Marine scientists believe the rocky ledges along the coast of the Upper Spencer Gulf Marine Park are the perfect habitat for the giant cuttlefish to lay their eggs. In their thousands, the cuttlefish arrive to compete for a mate, deposit their eggs then die.
Is swimming with the cuttlefish safe?
Swimming with the giant cuttlefish is a safe activity. Sharks are not a problem. Of course, with so much food around, the cuttlefish do attract some predators. Dolphins and seals can sometimes be seen getting a cuttlefish snack, but they are no threat to swimmers.
There are two challenges for this activity. The first is dealing with the cold water, dress appropriately. The other hazard is the slippery, uneven rocks that lead to the water’s edge. If you take your time and use the chain rail at Stony Point to steady yourself, you should avoid an uncomfortable slip onto the rocks.
Do you need a permit to swim with the Whyalla Cuttlefish?
There are no permits, entry fees or park passes required to swim with the Whyalla cuttlefish
Can you catch cuttlefish?
You cannot fish for the giant cuttlefish in the False Bay/Point Lowly spawning area. Fishing is allowed for other species but there is a year-wide ban on taking cuttlefish.
More Amazing Cuttlefish Facts
- Cuttlefish have 3 hearts. Two are used for pumping blood to the gills and the other pumps blood to the rest of the body.
- Those 3 hearts pump green-blue blood. Mammals have iron-based hemoglobin in their blood that makes it red. Cuttlefish have a copper-based protein called hemocyanin that makes their blood a different colour.
- The cuttlefish bone you often see washed up on the beach is porous. The cuttlefish pump air into the bone to control their buoyancy.
- Cuttlefish eyes – Their large eyes are not only striking, but they are also incredibly complex. Cuttlefish are colour blind, but they are highly sensitive to polarized light. Their unusually shaped pupils give them almost 360-degree vision.
- Despite their name, cuttlefish are not fish. They are a type of Mollusk known as a cephalopod (which is Greek for head-foot). They are closely related to squid and octopus.
- Many more male than female cuttlefish arrive in Whyalla which is why there is such fierce and spectacular mating rituals to attract a female.
Getting to Whyalla
The drive from Adelaide to Whyalla takes 4 hour 15 minutes.
Whyalla is 385km north of Adelaide at the top of Spencer Gulf. If you find yourself without a car there are flights and bus services to Whyalla from Adelaide. By car, it is an interesting drive from Adelaide. You hug the coast of St Vincent’s Gulf, get views of the Southern Flinders Ranges and pass through the Iron Triangle towns of Port Pirie and Port Augusta.
Read More : Plan your Adelaide to Perth Road Trip
There is a range of accommodation options in Whyalla. We stayed at the Sundowner Cabin and Tourist Park. Located just outside the town centre the park was clean, tidy and a great place for a few nights. The back gate leads through to the Sundowner Hotel which has good pub meals. If you are diving or snorkeling the little balcony on the cabins is perfect for hanging out your wetsuit to dry. There are also campgrounds at Point Lowly and there are cottages at the Point Lowly Lighthouse.
- Stay at the Sundowner Cabin and Tourist Park
Other Things to do in Whyalla
Between cuttlefish swims, make sure you go to the marina to watch the local dolphins follow the fishing boats in. The dolphins swim right up to the pontoon and cruise along looking at everyone who has come to visit them. The Whyalla Maritime Museum has a great range of interactive and multimedia displays. A great place to finish your day is Wild Dog Hill, the sunsets are spectacular.
If you’re the kind of person that loves snorkelling and swimming with sea lions or manta rays or whale sharks, put a winter visit to Whyalla on your list. Swimming with the giant cuttlefish is a unique wildlife experience, there isn’t anything else like it in Australia.
Read More : See the Dolphins at Whyalla Marina
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