Sepia apama
Sepia apama
kg lbs 
cm inch 

Giant cuttlefish also known as the Australian giant cuttlefish (scientific name Sepia apama ), is the world's largest cuttlefish species, growing to 50 cm (20 in) in mantle length and over 10.5 kg (23 lb) in weight. Using cells known as chromatophores, the cuttlefish can put on spectacular displays, changing color in an instant. The giant cuttlefish is native to temperate and subtropical waters of Australia, from Brisbane in Queensland to Shark Bay in Western Australia and Tasmania to the south. It occurs on rocky reefs, seagrass beds, and sand and mud seafloor to a depth of 100 metres. In 2009 the species was listed at Near Threatened on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species due to an observed declining trend at that time.
















Not a migrant


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Genetic studies have shown that little if any interbreeding occurs between giant cuttlefish populations. While some genetic divergence is seen, the various populations are not considered taxonomically distinct and are commonly referred to by their location, e.g. Sepia apama upper Spencer Gulf population. The upper Spencer Gulf population is unique in that a permanent salinity gradient in the Spencer Gulf may physiologically exclude other populations from the zone occupied by the upper Spencer Gulf population. The upper Spencer Gulf population may in fact be a separate species, as it does show some hallmarks, such as genetic separation, differences in morphology, and different patterns of sexual dimorphism from adjacent populations.

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The giant cuttlefish is a neritic demersal species. They are carnivorous, opportunistic and voracious predators who feed predominantly on crustaceans and fish. Using neurally controlled cells known as chromatophore organs (red to yellow), iridophores (iridescent: spans the entire visible spectrum from blue to near-IR) and leucophores (white), the cuttlefish can put on spectacular displays, changing colour and patterns in a fraction of a second. Located in three layers under the skin, leucophores make up the bottom layer, with chromatophores the outermost. By selective blocking, the three layers work together to produce polarised patterns. Unlike those in most animals, cuttlefish iridophores are physiologically active; they can change their reflectivity, and the degree of polarisation can also be controlled. Cuttlefish are colourblind; however, the photoreceptors of cuttlefish eyes are arranged in a way which gives them the ability to see the linear polarisation of light. While the mantis shrimp is the only known creature to have true polarisation vision, cephalopods may also. Because the optic lobes of cuttlefish are larger than any other region of the brain and their skin produces polarised reflective patterns, they may communicate through this visual system. By raising elaborate papillae on their skin, S. apama squid can change the shape and the texture of their skin to imitate rock, sand, or seaweed.A bioenergetics study found that the giant cuttlefish is primarily diurnal and has a small home range (90–550 m or 300–1,800 ft) over short recording periods while travelling large distances to breed. They are able to channel most of their energy directly into growth because they spend 95% of the day resting, suggesting bioenergetics more like that of an octopus than a squid. Very little time is spent foraging (3.7% during the day and 2.1% at night); most of their time is spent resting and hiding in crevices from predators. The exception to this behavioral routine is the mass spawning aggregation, where cuttlefish are far more active during the days or weeks that they spend there.

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Climate zones

Sepia apama habitat map
Sepia apama
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Habits and Lifestyle

Seasonal behavior

Diet and Nutrition

Mating Habits

3 to 5 months
100 to 300
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Giant cuttlefish live 1–2 years. Breeding takes place with the onset of the southern winter. Males abandon their normal cryptic coloring and set out to dazzle the females by adopting rapidly changing bright colours and striking patterns. Females are polyandrous, and collaborative research indicates the tendency for females to reproduce using male genetic material deposited in spermatangia more favorably than in sperm receptacles directly. Females then attach their eggs to the undersides of rocks in caves or crevices, where they hatch within three to five months. S. apama is semelparous, and death follows shortly after a single mating cycle and laying of eggs that will spawn the next generation. S. apama has poor anaerobic capability compared to most aquatic invertebrates and a lack of food leads to catabolism. Stomach-content analysis indicates fasting during the breeding season, and as S. apama can catabolise no more than 50% of its body weight, it slowly loses physical condition as the season progresses and eventually dies. Throughout their range, these cephalopods breed in pairs or small groups, laying eggs in suitable caves or rock crevices. Loose spawning aggregations can form, but rarely exceed 10 animals in any one location, with one known exception: hundreds of thousands aggregate along rockey reefs between Whyalla and Point Lowly in the Upper Spencer Gulf. While surveys suggest that juveniles leave these spawning grounds after hatching, nothing is known of their subsequent movement or lifestyle strategies as a juvenile. Adults return to the aggregation site the following winter, or delay their return by an additional year.


Population number

Surveys indicated that the cuttlefish biomass remained stable from 1998 to 2001 as commercial fishing pressure was reduced by regulation. A survey in 2005 revealed a 34% decrease in biomass since 2001 that was attributed to natural variability and illegal fishing during the peak spawning period. The closure was subsequently expanded to the entire spawning grounds, and anecdotal observations suggested increased numbers in 2006 and 2007; however, a new survey in 2008 found the biomass had decreased a further 17%.

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In 2011, an estimated 33% of the 2010 population had returned to breed, fewer than 80,000 cuttlefish. Beginning in May, the cuttlefish leave deep water and migrate along coastal reefs to reach their spawning grounds. Local fishermen claimed that a small "finger of land" near Point Lowly extends outside the exclusion zone and that commercial fishers have been targeting the area, intercepting the squid before they can reach the spawning grounds. Being semelparous breeders, ecologist Bronwyn Gillanders believed the cuttlefish were in danger, stating that determining whether this is a natural phenomenon or something else is difficult, and that the cause requires more research.

In 2012, the number of cuttlefish that returned to the spawning ground again dropped again. A cross-government Cuttlefish Working Group was established and recommended investigating broader ecological factors. Tour guide Tony Bramley, who had been taking divers to view the spawning grounds since they were discovered, stated, "It's heartbreaking, when you look at what's left... there were so many animals you couldn't land on the bottom, you had to push them aside."

The Conservation Council of South Australia, which believes the population to be a separate species based on unpublished scientific data, warned that the Spencer Gulf cuttlefish faced possible extinction within two or three years if nothing was done to better protect them. The state government working group recommended an immediate ban on fishing for the cuttlefish; however, this was rejected by the state cabinet on 3 September with Fisheries Minister Gail Gago stating, "There is no strong evidence to suggest that fishing is impacting on the giant cuttlefish, therefore, further closures would be ineffective."

On 28 March 2013, the state government introduced a temporary ban on fishing for cuttlefish in the northern Spencer Gulf for the 2013 breeding season. Fisheries Minister Gago announced that research into the reasons behind the 90% decline in the cuttlefish population had ruled out commercial fishing as a cause, but was otherwise inconclusive, and that further areas of Spencer Gulf would be closed in 2014. The population continued its decline, reaching the lowest numbers on record in 2013.

In 2014, the cuttlefish population showed first signs of potential recovery, after 15 years of an overall trend of decline. Numbers increased again in 2015 confirming this trend. As of 2021, the population has recovered to an estimated population exceeding 240,000 animals.

The fishing ban for the whole of northern Spencer Gulf was extended until 2020, prohibiting their capture in all Spencer Gulf waters north of Wallaroo and Arno Bay. In 2020 the closed area rolled back to the same limited spatial closure that was in place in 2012, encompassing the waters of False Bay, from Whyalla to Point Lowly and extending northwards towards the Point Lowly North marina.

  • Figure '0' is used to represent years in which surveys did not occur, and no estimation was made.
  • 1999–2017 data sourced from SARDI
  • Approximate 2016 population estimate was published in the Whyalla News and approximate 2017 numbers were first published by PIRSA. A slightly larger estimate for the 2017 season was published in 2018 by the ABC (reflected in the graph).

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An unsuccessful application to list this population of giant cuttlefish as a threatened species under Australian law was made during the government's consideration of BHP Billiton's Olympic Dam mine expansion project. The application was made following an observed and unexplained population decline and public concerns about future risks posed by industrial pollution. On February 2, 2011, the Australian government's Threatened Species Scientific Committee ruled that the species was not eligible for listing, as the affected population was not taxonomically distinct from the rest of the species for the purposes of the Act. Further scientific work has determined the cuttlefish of northern Spencer Gulf to be genetically distinct from other giant cuttlefish populations in Australian waters though the results remain unpublished.


1. Sepia apama Wikipedia article -
2. Sepia apama on The IUCN Red List site -

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