A fantastic trip! The mission was to photograph deepwater sharks, skates and chimaeras. We also planned to look for deep sea jellies, deepwater anglerfish and anything else that looked vaguely abyssal. I am happy to report that we found every species that we were hoping to, plus one shark species that we did not expect to see.
Velvet Belly Sharks
Our first dive was a baited night dive in 40m. In Namsen Fiord, there is a layer of cloudy water near the surface so the depths are always in twilight. Because of this, creatures that would otherwise remain hundreds of meters down, come much closer to recreational limits. Once night falls, these animals ascend even further especially if there is a little fresh scent to intrigue them.
After a quick bounce dive to position the bait, we waited a couple of hours and returned with our cameras. Sure enough, when we approached the bait station, perhaps a dozen velvetbelly lantern sharks were milling around, looking for scraps. The sharks were barely long enough to fill a wide angle lens and they swam erratically, eager to find a mortal to consume and probably nervous in the beams of our modelling lights.
Velvetbelly lanternsharks are true denzens of the abyss. They possess cells on their bellies that generate an almost indiscernible green glow. When viewed from below, the subtle light blends into the ambient light from the surface, rendering them virtually invisible – a great strategy for a tiny shark that is often more prey than predator.
Because of the depth, our dives were inevitably short. We returned to the surface to off-gas and warm up and then slipped back in for another look. This time I concentrated on another shark that inhabits Norway’s deep, dark fiords. Larger and more colourful than it’s abyssal cousin, the blackmouth catshark is a beautiful species that Its relatively common but difficult to see outside of this unique body of water. There were three BMCS at the bait station. One was swimming around looking for scraps but the others were resting peacefully on the silty substrate. I approached slowly at an angle and managed to get a few nice ID images before each one bolted from the disturbance.
For me, this was a particularly satisfying encounter because it was the one hundredth shark species that I have managed to photograph; an achievement that consumed two decades of my life and (as far as I know) something that no other diver has managed to do. One of our guests Galice Haurou was kind enough to take this image of the event. My next goal of 200 species may be an unrealistic goal but I will give it a try! 🙂
The third shark of the trip I missed because I skipped a night dive in Namsen Fiord. Fortunately, Galice Hoarou (one of our guests) is a great photographer so he managed to snap some very nice spiny dogfish images in my absence.
Spurdogs as they are sometimes called, are not confined to deep water but they can be found there. Two showed up to our feed. Spinies are extremely sought after fish for English fish and chips. Although this species has been heavily fished, it is nice to see that they are still alive and well in the fiords of Norway.
The next morning we took a skiff to the far side of the fiord and dove a spot where thornback skates are reputedly common, I only saw one down at 20m in the darkness but it was an accommodating animal that posed patiently for a few minutes before retreating into the depths.
This was also a good spot for gurnards; odd looking fishes that half swim and half crawl along the bottom.
That night we conducted two more night dives. The first was attended by more velvetbelly lanternsharks and blackmouth catsharks but there were other abyssal creatures to enjoy. Monkfish are deep ambush predators that lay in wait for small fishes to swim within striking distance of their camouflaged bearded mouths. Attracted by an easy meal, this one was sitting among driftwood debris perhaps hoping for a hapless shark to swim overhead.
I skipped the second night dive to avoid taking on too much nitrogen but I soon wished I had not done so when Galice showed me images of a spiny dogfish; a species that I have photographed on the other side of the Atlantic but I would have enjoyed seeing here in Norway.
Deepsea Vampire Jellyfish!
The following day was similarly successful. The morning after that, we moved our base to a quaint little cottage on the banks of Trondheim Fiord where we hoped to find deepwater ghost sharks. But first, we went to spot where football-sized deep sea jellyfish called Periphylla rise to within divable depths.
Periphylla are voracious predators in their own right but they are also fragile animals that cannot tolerate daylight. As soon as they get too close to the surface, all of their pigment drains from their bodies and they quickly die; rather like deep-sea vampires.
Once darkness fell we dove a spot next to a muscle farm. Ghost sharks (aka Chimaeras) are rather keen on muscles so this is a good place to look for them. Sure enough, the ghost sharks were exactly where our guide told us they would be.
There was no need to bait this particular species because they are easy to approach. We found them between 20-30m moving slowly along the bottom looking for muscles. Their reflective green eyes made them extremely easy to pinpoint in the inky black water.
On our final day, we explored the house reef where we saw one more blackmouth catshark as well as an interesting assortment of invertebrates and bony fishes.
After a final dive with the chimaeras, we called it a trip and retired to the warmth of the cottage to dry our dive gear and celebrate an enormously successful expedition.
Escorted by Dolphins
On our way in from our periphylla dives we were approached by a family pod of short-beaked common dolphins aka springer dolphins. It was a great experience watching the dolphins as they rode our bow wake or lept into the air just for the fun of it.
Join our Norway Deep Shark Expedition in October 2019
This trip was so productive that we are planning a second Big Fish Deep Shark Trip in October.
There are some obvious prerequisites if you would like to sign up for this trip. Drysuit experience, deep diving experience (but not technical) and night diving experience are all important. If you can tick all those boxes and you want to see some exotic new sharks that you won’t find anywhere else on the planet, you will love this trip! Join us on the next: Norway Deepwater Shark Diving Safari