Spencer Gulf

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Location of Spencer Gulf in Australia

The Spencer Gulf is the westernmost of two large inlets on the southern coast of Australia, in the state of South Australia, facing the Great Australian Bight. The Gulf is 322 km (200 mi) long and 129 km (80 mi) wide at its mouth. The western shore of the Gulf is the Eyre Peninsula, while the eastern side is the Yorke Peninsula, which separates it from the smaller Gulf St Vincent. Its entrance was defined by Matthew Flinders as a line from Cape Catastrophe on Eyre Peninsula to Cape Spencer on Yorke Peninsula.[1]

The largest towns on the gulf are Port Lincoln, Whyalla, Port Pirie, and Port Augusta. Smaller towns on the gulf include Tumby Bay, Port Neill, Arno Bay, Cowell, Port Germein, Port Broughton, Wallaroo, Port Hughes and Port Victoria.


The gulf was named Spencer's Gulph by Flinders on 20 March 1802, after George John Spencer, the 2nd Earl Spencer, an ancestor of Diana, Princess of Wales.[1]

The official name is now Spencer Gulf. The gulf was also named Golfe Bonaparte by Nicholas Baudin at roughly the same time as Flinders, but the name did not catch (others, like the Fleurieu Peninsula, did).

The area was first explored on land by Edward John Eyre in 1839 and 1840-41. Settlement of the shores of the Gulf began in the late 1840s. Settlement of Port Lincoln occurred much earlier, due in part to its fertility and utility to foreign whaling vessels, who operated off the south and west coasts. Port Lincoln was considered as the site of a potential alternative capital city in the 1830s, prior to the selection of Adelaide.


The world's largest known breeding aggregation of Sepia apama occurs in Spencer Gulf.
Little penguins breed on islands in Spencer Gulf.

Spencer Gulf, in particular the rocky inshore reef along the coast south of Port Bonython and Point Lowly is a breeding ground for the Northern Spencer Gulf population of Giant Australian Cuttlefish.[2][3][4] They are a favorite food of local dolphins, who have developed sophisticated techniques for safely eating these creatures.[5] The Upper Spencer Gulf is also known for its snapper and Yellowtail kingfish fishing.[6] Great White Sharks are sometimes seen in Spencer Gulf by fishermen, and shark cage diving and surface tours operate out of Port Lincoln.

The area around the gulf, consisting of the Eyre and Yorke Peninsulas, is the Eyre Yorke Block bioregion which was originally wooded shrubland but has now mainly been cleared for agriculture.

A relic population of Tiger Pipefish (Filicampus tigris), a subtropical species is range limited to Northern Spencer Gulf.[7]

Visiting Southern Right Whales and Humpback Whales enter Spencer Gulf from June through to October, and can be seen as far north as Point Lowly and Port Augusta.[8]

Breeding colonies of Little penguins exist on islands in Spencer Gulf. The northernmost colonies are located at Lipson Island and Wardang Island. In 2004, the Wardang Island colony's population was approximately 8,000 penguins.[9]

Important Bird Areas[edit]

The Spencer Gulf Important Bird Area lies along the north-eastern coast of the Gulf; it comprises a 460 km2 strip of coastal land consisting mainly of intertidal mudflats, mangroves and salt marshes. It was identified as an Important Bird Area (IBA) by BirdLife International because of its importance for the conservation of waders, or shorebirds.[10]

Additional Import Bird Areas within Spencer Gulf include the Sir Joseph Banks Group and Goose Island. Both contain breeding colonies of various island seabird species.[11]

Marine Parks[edit]

Spencer Gulf contains five distinct Marine Parks, each with its own outer boundary and internal zoning. Fishing is prohibited with Sanctuary Zones, and detailed maps and GPS coordinates for the parks are available from the Government of South Australia's Department of Environment, Water & Natural Resources.[12]

The marine parks within Spencer Gulf are (from north to south):

  • Southern Spencer Gulf Marine Park[17]


Spencer Gulf contains a number of inshore and offshore islands. These include (from north to south):

Port Development Proposals[edit]

Due to its proximity to many identified mineral deposits in South Australia's Far North, Eyre Peninsula and Braemar regions, there are multiple new port and harbor developments proposed for the region.

These include new or expanded facilities at (from north to south):

Seawater desalination plants[edit]

There is currently only one reverse osmosis seawater desalination plant drawing water from Spencer Gulf. Several others are planned. All currently or will produce water primarily or exclusively for industrial use. They are:

Spencer Gulf in Film & Video[edit]

The Spencer Gulf region, its wildlife and its development are the subjects of a forthcoming documentary film entitled Cuttlefish Country.[30]



  1. ^ a b Flinders, Matthew (1966) [1814]. A Voyage to Terra Australis : undertaken for the purpose of completing the discovery of that vast country, and prosecuted in the years 1801, 1802, and 1803 in His Majesty's ship the Investigator, and subsequently in the armed vessel Porpoise and Cumberland Schooner; with an account of the shipwreck of the Porpoise, arrival of the Cumberland at Mauritius, and imprisonment of the commander during six years and a half in that island. (Facsimile ed.). Adelaide; Facsimile reprint of: London : G. and W. Nicol, 1814 ed. In two volumes, with an Atlas (3 volumes): Libraries Board of South Australia. p. 249. Retrieved 27 March 2013. 
  2. ^ Cross-dressing cuttlefish to sex up tourism
  3. ^ Sepia apama: the giant Australian cuttlefish
  4. ^ Whyalla Cuttlefish
  5. ^ Catch cuttlefish, drain off the ink, then fillet. Serves five (dolphins): Scientists stunned by mammals' elaborate culinary preparations
  6. ^ Snapper Fishing
  7. ^ Occurrence search results - Filicampus tigris - Tiger Pipefish Atlas of Living Australia. Accessed 2013-12-24.
  8. ^ Ladgrove, Petria "Whales spotted at Port Augusta" ABC North & West, 2010-07-06. Accessed 2013-12-24.
  9. ^ Wiebken, A. Conservation Priorities for Little Penguin Populations in Gulf St Vincent SARDI, South Australia (2011-06). Retrieved 2014-01-26.
  10. ^ "IBA: Spencer Gulf". Birdata. Birds Australia. Retrieved 2011-10-20. 
  11. ^ Dutson, G. et al "Australia's Important Bird Areas - Key sites for bird conservation" Birdlife.org.au (Oct. 2009)
  12. ^ Government of South Australia - Department of Environment, Water & Natural Resources - Marine Parks Retrieved 2013-12-06
  13. ^ "Upper Spencer Gulf marine park zones". Department of Environment, Water and Natural Resources. Retrieved 6 December 2013. 
  14. ^ "Franklin Harbor". Department of Environment, Water and Natural Resources. Retrieved 6 December 2013. 
  15. ^ "http://www.environment.sa.gov.au/marineparks/find-a-park/upper-spencer-gulf/franklin-harbor". Department of Environment, Water and Natural Resources. Retrieved 6 December 2013. 
  16. ^ "Sir Joseph Banks Group Marine Park" Government of South Australia, Department of Environment. Retrieved 2013-12-06.
  17. ^ "Southern Spencer Gulf". Department of Environment, Water and Natural Resources. Retrieved 6 December 2013. 
  18. ^ a b c d Royal Australian Navy Hydrographic Service Hydrographic Department, (1983). Port Lincoln and approaches (chart no. Aus 134). 
  19. ^ South Australian Government - Major Development Proposals "Port Bonython Bulk Export Facility near Whyalla" Retrieved 2013-11-05.
  20. ^ "Whyalla's extended harbor opens gate to China for iron ore" The Advertiser (2013-07-29) Retrieved 2013-11-05.
  21. ^ Flinders Ports South Australia "Iron ore boost in sight for Port Pirie" Retrieved 2013-11-05.
  22. ^ "Regional Development Australia Fund - Round 2 Project Fact Sheet - Lucky Bay Harbor Extension" Retrieved 2013-11-05.
  23. ^ "Big plans in the pipeline" Yorke Peninsula Country Times (2013-10-01) Retrieved 2013-11-05.
  24. ^ South Australian Government - Major Development Proposals "Cape Hardy deep sea port" Retrieved 2013-11-05.
  25. ^ South Australian Government - Major Development Proposals "Sheep Hill deep water port facility (Stage 1) on Eyre Peninsula" Retrieved 2013-11-05.
  26. ^ "Desalination plant commissioned at Onesteel Whyalla" Osmoflo (2011-12-02). Retrieved 2014-01-29.
  27. ^ "Olympic Dam expansion EIS overview information sheet" BHP Billiton (2009-04-08). Retrieved 2014-01-29.
  28. ^ EPBC Act > Referral Detail > Centrex Metals Port Spencer Department of Environment, Government of Australia (2012-10-18). Retrieved 2014-01-2
  29. ^ "Razorback project returns a positive PFS" Royal Resources (2013-01-30). Retrieved 2014-01-29.
  30. ^ Cuttlefish Country website (accessed 2013-11-05)

Coordinates: 34°25′S 136°45′E / 34.417°S 136.750°E / -34.417; 136.750