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Giant Salamander Snorkelling


Our 2018 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.


Giant Salamander in Japan


The Journey

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 start.
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!


Japanese Giant Salamander Snorkelling


Camouflaged Salamanders 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.


Giant Salamander camouflage


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 spot.


Giant Salamander Snorkelling underwater


Some guests just enjoyed the encounter while others took hundreds of images of the giants as they moved around the river bed.


Snorkeller with Giant Salamander


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.


Giant Salamander hiding

River Fishes

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 didn't recognize.


River fish in Japan


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... unusual.


Giant Salamander Snorkelling

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.


Searching for Giant Salamanders


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.


Wrinkled Frog, Japan.

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.


Crab in the forest in Gifu.


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!


Juvenile Giant Salamander Snorkelling


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!

Join our 2019 Giant Salamander Expedition


Giant Salamander Snorkelling Adventure









American crocodile diving

Snorkel with Japanese Giant Salamanders



2018 Japan Shark Safari
Trip Report


Andy Murch Trip Leader

Andy Murch


Andy Murch is a fanatical big animal diver.

He has photographed and dived with more sharks than most people on this planet and he's very good at it.

Andy's images and shark stories have appeared in hundreds of books and magazines around the world from titles as varied as Canadian Geographic, Scuba Diving, FHM, Digital Photography,  and the Journal of Zoology.

Andy is the Creator of the ever expanding Shark and Ray Field Guide on Elasmodiver


When not running big animal expeditions or on photographic assignments, Andy lives and dives on Vancouver Island, Canada


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Predators in Peril

Andy is also the driving force behind the PREDATORS IN PERIL PROJECT which shines a spotlight on many endangered species of sharks and rays that are largely overlooked by mainstream conservation groups. Predators In Peril is entirely funded by Big Fish Expeditions.


Find out more here:


Predators in Peril Project