SNORKELLING WITH GIANT SALAMANDERS
Japanese Giant Salamander trip in a Nutshell:
This year we enjoyed the best snorkelling
conditions we have seen of any of our salamander trips.
There were also plenty of salamanders to go around, from 1m+
giants to a tiny 15cm juvenile.
As always, we met up in Tokyo and took the
bullet train to Gifu. for some of our guests it was the
first time they had ridden a 200mph train so it was a fun
We stayed in Gifu Hashima for the night and then drove up to
the Gifu Mountains with our guide. As soon as we got to the
right river, the search for salamanders was on!
and the best visibility I have
seen in Gifu!
Considering that a super-typhoon swept
through the mountains just a few days earlier, the
visibility was impressive!
We scoured the river and found a few
salamanders laying in wait under dark rocky overhangs. Were
it not for their white toes, it would be difficult to tell
them apart from the rounded rocks.
Out and About
After waiting for a long time, while
salamanders pretended to be rocks, one finally swum out into
the open. Another soon followed and before long we split up
and each of us followed a different animal as it came up for
air or searched the seafloor for fishes and a new hiding
Some guests just enjoyed the encounter while
others took hundreds of images of the giants as they moved
around the river bed.
It is not easy following a fast swimming
salamander over slippery rocks in water that is almost too
shallow to snorkel in. Sometimes one would swim towards the
very shallowest point and then disappear downstream over
some small rapids. At that point we would simply trudge back
upstream until we located a new animal that was sitting
still or at least swimming in a more convenient area.
As well as salamanders, there were plenty of
other critters in the river including turtles, carp, lots of gobies
and some interesting little fishes that I
A Mountain Feast.
After a great first day of snorkeling, we
retired to a traditional Japanese style hotel that we always
stay at in the Gifu Mountains.
In this hotel, the bedrooms have bed rolls
and tatami mats instead of western style beds. Its a little
uncomfortable for westerners that are used to soft
mattresses but its all part of the cultural experience. The
other part is the traditional Japanese feast that the hotel
serves for us. There are relatively normal rice and noodle
dishes and some things that are a bit more strange. For
example, one year they served a tiny dish on a leaf shaped
into a boat. I thought the contents was wild rice but it
turned out to be a teaspoons worth of tiny bees! No bees
this year but some of the dishes were still a bit...
Salamanders at Night
After the meal we returned to the river to
look for salamanders but just for topside images. They were
hard to locate in the darkness but we did eventually see one
near where we had snorkelled with them earlier.
More Japanese Amphibians
While we searched in the darkness, I found a
Japanese Wrinkled Frog along the river bank; a new species
for my amphibian collection.
Back to the River
The next morning we returned to the river for
more salamanders. While the guests were enjoying the largest
amphibians in the world, I went for a hike up the mountain
side. Gifu is a beautiful spot.
There weren't many critters in the forest
except for a few birds and some interesting land crabs.
A juvenile giant.
When I hiked back down to the snorkelling
spot, our guide showed me a tiny (by giant salamander
standards) 15cm long juvenile. I assumed it was the young of
the year but he assured me that it was probably around 5yrs
old; quite the slow growing dinosaur!
Join us Next Year
By midafternoon, everyone had seen their
share of giant salamanders and it was time to head back to
Tokyo. After a final group shot, we retraced our steps and
finished the trip with dinner in Tokyo.
It was a short trip. Too short to fly all the
way to Japan for, but if you are on a longer cultural trip
or if youève joined our Japanese Shak Safari (a great trip
that runs back to back with this one) then I definitely
recommend coming to see the salamanders. Its a unique
experience that you canèt do anywhere else!
2019 Giant Salamander