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SNORKELING WITH GIANT SALAMANDERS 2018

 

Snorkelling with Japanese Giant Salamanders

 

Our 2018 Japanese Giant Salamander Expedition in a Nutshell:

Lots of Giant Salamanders in crystal clear water. Definitely, the best giant salamander encounters we have enjoyed so far!

 

Japanese Giant Salamander

 

Tokyo to Gifu

The Gifu Mountains are a little difficult to reach if you don't know your way around Japan, so we met our guests in Tokyo and escorted them by bullet train to Gifu. For most of our guests it was the first time they had ridden a 200mph train so it was a fun start.
After spending the first night in a comfortable western style hotel we drove into the mountains in the heart of Gifu.

Arriving by late morning, we jumped straight in and immediately found a couple of giant salamanders lurking among the rocks along the banks of the river.

 

Giant Salamander hiding

 

Amazing Visibility!

The first thing I notriced this year was how clear the water was. Its usually fairly clear but this time it was like swimming through air.

Considering that a super-typhoon had swept through the mountains just a few days earlier, I expected it to be challenging so this was very welcome surprise.

 

Giant Salamander Snorkelling underwater

 

Camouflaged Salamanders

Continuing to scour the river, I found another salamander laying in wait under a dark rocky overhang. Were it not for its white toes, I could not have told it apart from the rounded rocks.

 

Giant Salamander camouflage

 

Out and About

After waiting for a long time, while the salamanders pretended to be rocks, one finally swum out into the open. Another followed and within a short time we each had a salamander under surveillance.

 

Japanese Giant Salamander Snorkelling

 

Slippery Characters

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 swimming in a more convenient area.

 

Giant Salamander Snorkelling Adventure
 

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.

Although I didn't have a macro lens with me, I tried to capture a few snaps of the different fishes that inhabit the river. Some of these species are important food sources for the overgrown amphibians.

 

River fish in Japan

 

Jananese River Fishes

 

River Fish in Japan Snorkelling

 

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 teaspoon's worth of tiny bees! No bees this year but some of the dishes were still a bit...  unusual.

 

Giant Salamander Snorkelling
 

Giant Salamanders at Night.

Although salamanders will snap at anything that gets close enough to their mouth during the day, they are officially nocturnal hunters so we returned to river to see if we could find some after dark.

We eventually located one in a waterfall waiting for small fishes to literally fall into its mouth - a lazy but effective feeding strategy :)

This was not a snorkeling opportunity but it was fun hopping from stone to stone trying to find the salamanders on the prowl.

 

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 and into the Forest

The next morning we returned to the river for more salamanders. While our guests were enjoying snorkeling with the largest amphibians in the world, I went for a hike up the mountain side.

Gifu is a beautiful quiet place with just the sound of birds, trickling streams and small land crabs scurrying around in the underbrush.

 

Crab in the forest in Gifu.

 

A juvenile giant.

When I hiked back down to the snorkeling 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

 

Wrapping up a Great Trip

We stayed in the river to the very end, enthralled by these strange creatures that can be found nowhere else in the world. Eventually we packed everything up and retraced our steps back to Tokyo where the trip officially ended.

It was a really interesting adventure that we all enjoyed immensely.

 

Japanese Giant Salamanders

 

Join us Next Year for even more Salamanders.

Next year we will be back in Gifu swimming with more Giant Salamanders and we would love to see you there. Because it is a mini-trip, some guests treat this as an add-on to our Japanese Shark Diving Safari which we run at the same time.

On our 2019 trip, we're going to change the trip slightly by visiting a different river system on our second day so that we can snorkel with another species of Japanese salamander. That one won't be a giant so it will make a nice comparison with the giants that we'll see day one: If you're in Japan next October, join us there: Japanese Shark Diving Safari

 

 

A PORTION OF THE PROCEEDS FROM BIG FISH EXPEDITIONS FUNDS

THE PREDATORS IN PERIL PROJECT

predatorsinperil.org

 

 

 

 

American crocodile diving

Snorkel with Japanese Giant Salamanders

 

READ THE LATEST:

2018 Japanese Giant Salamander
Trip Report

 

Andy Murch Trip Leader

Andy Murch

EXPEDITION LEADER

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:

 

pip.org

 

Predators in Peril Project