Australia is home to a rich underwater world bursting with marine life. One phenomenon, in particular, is the giant Australian cuttlefish aggregation that takes place each winter in the Spencer Gulf.
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For a few months between May and August, the waters surrounding Spencer Gulf on the Eyre Peninsula in South Australia host a cuttlefish breeding season like no other.
We’ve had our fair share of amazing water-based adventures in Australia. We’ve had the chance to dive in the Great Barrier Reef and Ningaloo Reef, swim with whale sharks, dive with great white sharks, and more. Needless to say, our bar was set pretty high.
Our experience swimming with giant cuttlefish in Whyalla was one for the books!
As the fourth largest hub in South Australia, even outpacing the renowned Port Lincoln, this unassuming town is bursting with possibilities for a weekend getaway in South Australia. Its 300 days of sunshine annually and crystal-clear waters make it an irresistible destination for everyone!
Whyalla is perfect for fishing, and if you love spotting dolphins, snorkeling, and swimming, you’re in for a real treat. While cuttlefish are a common sight when scuba diving in Australia, Whyalla is the only known place in the world where tens of thousands of giant Australian cuttlefish gather for their unique reproductive rituals.
Beyond the beach, this city is buzzing with events, shopping, museums, and culture, all against the backdrop of that iconic red earth and the classic Eyre Peninsula scenery.
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How to Get to Whyalla
The town of Whyalla is located on the Eyre Peninsula in South Australia, about 4.5 hour drive from Adelaide. Consider making a pit stop at the famous wineries of Barossa Valley along the way to break up the drive.
You can also take a long-distance bus from Adelaide to Whyalla. Several bus companies offer this service, and the journey takes about 6-8 hours.
The Ghan, a famous Australian train service, connects Adelaide to Whyalla. This is a unique and scenic way to travel, but it’s not the fastest option. The train journey takes longer compared to driving or flying.
Whyalla Airport (WYA) is the closest airport to the city. You can book a flight to Whyalla from major Australian cities like Adelaide. From Adelaide, you can connect to Whyalla via Regional Express Airlines (REX) or other carriers. The flight duration is around 1 hour.
Another option is to fly from Adelaide to Port Lincoln, and drive 2.5 hours to get to Whyalla.
As sustainable travellers, we try to avoid unnecessary domestic flights and encourage you to do the same. While driving isn’t the greenest choice, it’s still a more eco-friendly option than flying, especially if you carpool in a fuel-efficient vehicle.
If you are going to add a visit to Whyalla to your South Australia itinerary, consider making it a part of a bigger Adelaide to the Eyre Peninsula road trip!
About Australian Giant Cuttlefish
The giant Australian cuttlefish is the largest cuttlefish species in the world.
Despite their name, cuttlefish aren’t fish at all! They belong to a group of mollusks called cephalopods (think squid) and earned the title of ‘Chameleons of the sea.’ One of their stand-out abilities is to change colour, change shape, and texture to camouflage themselves while zipping through the water at brisk speeds.
These spectacular marine creatures also got their “giant” title from being up to 60 cm long and weighing upwards of 5 kg.
Cuttlefish may be colour-blind, but they are highly sensitive to polarized light. Their unique pupils allow them nearly 360-degree vision.
In Whyalla, there is a notable imbalance between the number of male and female giant cuttlefish. This results in annual and highly competitive mating rituals, as the male cuttlefish engage in spirited contests to secure the attention of a female cuttlefish.
Mating for cuttlefish is quite a spectacle, as the males join their eight arms and two tentacles with their female partners to deliver their special sperm packages right into her mouth.
Needless to say, it’s a sight to observe!
When you’re home to the largest gathering of giant cuttlefish in the world, it’s only right to throw a celebration! Whyalla does just that with Cuttlefest, held from May to August.
The standout of Cuttlefest is the Community Celebration Day, teeming with stalls, locally produced food, live bands, kids’ activities, and a VR cuttlefish exhibit. You can also find other cuttlefish-related activities like movie screenings, local produce markets, citizen science events, and cuttlefish-themed entertainment across Whyalla.
Why Do Cuttlefish Come To Whyalla?
The small town of Whyalla in the Eyre Peninsula is where Giant Australian cuttlefish congregate to mate on the annual cuttlefish migration. The rocky seabeds in the shallow water surrounding Point Lowly and Stony Point create an ideal environment for the females to lay their eggs.
When Can You See Cuttlefish In Whyalla?
Giant cuttlefish breeding time usually begins in May, peaks in June and July, and tapers off in August.
Can You Catch Cuttlefish In Whyalla?
No, there is a permanent fishing closure for cephalopods (cuttlefish, squid, and octopus) in False Bay, the Cephalopod exclusion zone. This covers much of the Upper Spencer Gulf, from Point Lowly to the city of Whyalla. In addition to the permanent ban, there is a temporary closure in waters 100 m out from the coast. You can follow along for updates on the closure here.
What Is The Water Temperature In Whyalla?
As cuttlefish spawn in the winter, the water temperature in Whyalla during this time is pretty cold. Depending on the month, temperatures range between 12-18°C. In other words, a thick wetsuit will be your friend!
Where Can You Swim With the Cuttlefish In Whyalla?
Accurately coined the cuttlefish Coast, the shallow water around Point Lowly in South Australia is the perfect place to swim with cuttlefish. Stony Point and Black Point (just outside of Whyalla) are popular access points for divers and snorkelers.
How To See Giant Australian Cuttlefish In Whyalla
The easiest way to witness the natural phenomenon is on a tour. Whether you’re a beginner or an experienced diver, you can join a diving tour for $220-340. The individual scuba tour lasts 4 hours and includes your equipment hire.
Similarly, snorkelling tours range from $160-280 and even offer options for those less comfortable swimming. They offer small group tours, each led by a knowledgeable guide, for a more personal and engaging experience.
Otherwise, you can bring or hire equipment and go on your self-guided swim. Whyalla Diving Services offers equipment for rent. They have everything, from single items like masks and wetsuits to full equipment sets. A wetsuit will set you back $40, while a mask and fins are only $10/each. Outside of equipment, the experience is free. A guided tour is always great for local insight, but we had a great time going on our own expedition.
While some people choose to snorkel or dive, if you’re after the excitement without getting your feet wet, you can go for a glass-bottom boat tour! It’s the dry way to enjoy the spectacle.
Our Experience Swimming With Giant Cuttlefish In Whyalla
We visited Whyalla in early May, and despite it being very early in the cuttlefish season, we were thrilled to learn that the migration had arrived and cuttlefish could be easily spotted offshore.
We rented fins, masks, and wetsuits from Whyalla Diving Services the evening before our dive. The staff there were great at giving us advice on where along the coast we’d have the best chance of spotting the cuttlefish.
We learned that the migration usually starts at Black Point in the early months and that cuttlefish move to Stony Point later in the season.
With that info in mind, we geared up for our snorkeling adventure the following morning. We drove to Black Point, arriving around 9 am. After parking Tilly, the Troopy, at the signs, we changed into our wetsuits, grabbed our fins/snorkel gear and cameras, and walked down the steps to the rocky shoreline.
We geared up with fins and masks on the rocks and then carefully maneuvered the slippery rocks into the water. The water was cold, maybe 17°C at most, and even though the initial descent took our breath away, we adjusted to the temps pretty well.
Or perhaps we just got distracted because it didn’t take more than 5 mins for us to spot the first giant cuttlefish! Within 100m offshore, the amazing creatures were everywhere! There were dozens of smaller cuttlefish and a couple of giant colourful beauties.
We had no problem seeing them up close despite not having our scuba diving gear. We kept swimming along the shore, and in the 20 or so minutes that we spent in the water, we saw hundreds of cuttlefish in all their glory! We were able to find cuttlefish right at the surface of the water, but Max still did some duck diving to photograph them up close.
Although the water was cold, we lucked out on a sunny day and were able to stay warm thanks to the sun. It also helped that we were able to keep our heads above water since diving wasn’t even necessary.
All in all, it was an amazing experience! The whole trip was super unique and very special. We were impressed with how easy it was to see the cuttlefish without a tour and any diving equipment! It’s an experience accessible to anyone!
Things to Bring
The best tip for encountering the giant Australian cuttlefish in Whyalla is to be ready for the icy water. So, it’s smart to come equipped with a thick 7mm neoprene wetsuit (full body is best), boots for easier access over rocky ledges, gloves, flippers, and, of course, a snorkel.
Don’t forget to consider hoods, too, they’re good for cold water and can be rented if you don’t own one. And if you’re into photography, make sure to bring a decent underwater camera with you!
If you don’t have the right gear, you can hire it from the locals at Whyalla Diving Services.
Get the gear; you will need it. It’s best to buy a mask and snorkel ahead of time and bring them with you.
Renting wetsuits can be expensive. Try checking op-shops in town, and you may find one second-hand that you can grab for $15-20. We got Oksana a wetsuit at an op-shop for just $20, which was cheaper than renting for $30-40. We returned the wetsuit back to the opp shop after.
For a peaceful dive, go in the morning before the wind gets strong.
At the Stony Point dive and snorkel site, you’ll find convenient facilities, including restrooms and change rooms.