SNORKELING WITH GIANT SALAMANDERS
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!
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
After spending the first night in a comfortable western
style hotel we drove into the mountains in the heart of
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.
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.
Continuing to scour the river, I found
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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 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.
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
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
Gifu is a beautiful quiet place with just the
sound of birds, trickling streams and small land crabs
scurrying around in the underbrush.
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!
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
It was a really interesting adventure that we
all enjoyed immensely.
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
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