Washed-up sepia

On Boulder Beach, not surprisingly filled with boulders and pebbles, there’s a mass wash-up of Sepia rozella, a cuttlefish taken in commercial quantities. They grow to about 14 cm, according to Norman and Reid’s A Guide to Squid, Cuttlefish and Octopuses of Australia. Perhaps these were males that had mated and died all at once, as is their habit. The females linger longer to lay their cluster of eggs under a rock ledge and protect them, swooshing oxygenated water onto them. They basically starve to death as they spend all their time looking after the eggs.

A few of the washed-up cuttlebones of Sepia rozella , the rosecone cuttlefish


I’ve been fortunate to see two giant cuttlefish (Sepia apama) on a July (winter) day, washed up at Waniora Point, Bulli, near Wollongong. One was mostly eaten and still being eaten by silver gulls. The other was mostly intact. Referring to my field notes, I see that it was about 104 cm long (including the tentacles), 60 cm wide across the body, and quite thick. It smelled of fresh calamari (no surprise there). The colour was basically white with brownish purple ‘stripes’, with a trace of iridescence visible around the head. I still have the beak I cut out of the mostly eaten one – it’s about 7 cm long. It was a real thrill to see these animals.

Beak of giant cuttlefish, Sepia apama

Giant cuttlefish breed through mass spawning in winter. One of these spawning sites is in the top of Spencer Gulf near Whyalla in South Australia. There’s concern that the BHP desalination plant scheduled to be built near Whyalla will affect their breeding. The cuttlefish are also caught in large numbers by fishermen.

SCUBA divers go to Whyalla in the breeding season to watch the spectacle. Apparently the cuttles are so wrapped up in each other (often literally) that they don’t take notice of much else. It’d be an amazing experience to be in the water with them.

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9 Responses to Washed-up sepia

  1. Yowza, that’s an impressive beak! And breeding season for giant cuttlefish near Whyalla? Yet another natural phenomena I hadn’t heard of (I just recently clued into the aggregation of whale sharks called afuera off Mexico). I’m going to head over to youtube to see if I can find any footage of cuttlefish in flagrante delicto.

  2. Score! There are several vids, but here’s one from the BBC Discovery: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rlhx5fKDrrg It includes a couple of great lines: “He takes her in his arms…” and “The crossdressing maie…”

    Great stuff!

  3. Ross says:

    I live in lake macquarie and recently found one of these enormous cuttlefish washed up on beach!! I did the same thing and cut out its beak and backbone as a sort of souvenir. These are a very interesting species indeed

  4. Karin says:

    Just came across your page, those are amazing finds! I use parts of their little brother (Sepia Officinalis) we have here in the UK to make jewellery: http://shop.karinkraemer.co.uk/collections/sepia/products/sepia-beak-necklace

  5. Karin says:

    Thank you Joy,

    yes, I have silicone moulds made from them and cast them up in silver.
    I also use them into rings, earrings, even cufflinks http://shop.karinkraemer.co.uk/collections/sepia/products/sepia-beak-ring

    I am trying various other parts of sea-creatures such as the spider-crab shells, mud-crab “knives” (the blade-like parts inside the claws) and the thorny parts of a skate. Those parts are perfect for jewellery, they all are incredibly strong structures and yet so light!

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