The rough & tough Atlantic wolffish is one of the main characters in Saltstraumen.
This mission brought me to one of my loved ones – the northeastern Atlantic. The Norwegian coastline is one of my top “subzero smultronställen” (translates favourite spots in the sea). The mission was labelled “Atlantic marine life” and I was given one “tiny” week to do it. As most photographers know – the location is everything – and this mission with a huge scope in a short time was certainly no exception.
Every stone is covered with a mosaic of species either
sharing space or fighting to claim another square centimetre.
After some research I went to test-dive the famous, or infamous, Saltstraumen this spring with my buddy and professional subject finder Klas Malmberg. After the first day in Saltstraumen I was already hooked, and a bit scared. After a whole week I was close to religious by the density of marine life. Saltstraumen is virtually visualizing the northeastern Atlantic in a highly compressed format. Something like a gif file with the full quality of a RAW. But, and of course there must be a but, at the same time I was concerned and sometimes terrified by the diving conditions. It was troublesome enough to dive in these conditions and adding a serious shoot was a consideration.
The arctic view from the bridge towards Saltstraumen Dykkesenter
– a “smultronställe” for a diver.
The wild and furious currents in Saltstraumen are going here and there and sometimes up and even worse down. Is the hazard of shooting in this rock’n’roll water compensated by the fantastic environment and subjects? When Tore and Gisela at Saltstraumen Dive Centre met us with enthusiasm and offered the right set-up regarding safety, boat and guides it was simply irresistible. I had to try. I had to go for Saltstraumen.
The impressive whirlpool created when the raw power of
Saltstraumen, 22 knots, is visualized on the surface.
The narrow sound connects the sea with a deep fjord, Skjerstadfjord, and the salty everlasting tides push back and forth here with an unstoppable power.
This is one of those places that make an instant impact on people. Grabs you even before hitting the water. The area has an arctic and yet exotic setting. The sea and deep fjords surrounded by snowy peaks. The nature is stunning and White-tailed Sea eagles are patrolling the territory like aerial kings. Still, under the surface, the unseen and impressive scenery takes this place to another level. One step beyond.
The photographer looking for current shadow in Okselbåsen to be able to do macro stuff.
A maximum of 400 million m3 of water run through every six hours. It is the strongest tidal current in the world reaching a maximum speed of 22 knots, i.e.>40 km/h. I walk up to get a view from the “bridge over troubled waters”. When I get to the top it feels surrealistic that this is seawater. It looks more like a cartoon river. I watch as the white spiralling whirlpools are spinning out to sea. When the tide is running, of course, you are not supposed to dive in Saltstraumen. This is very obvious to me from the bridge.
The skeleton shrimp looks like a tiny version of the
terrestrial praying mantis always looking for a quick meal.
It was raining cats and dogs, my buddy Klas had arrived and it was finally time for the first dive. Every time we dived we got in the water 30 minutes before the tide shifted and finalized the dive roughly 30 minutes after the tidal change. There is a short period, 10-15 minutes, when the water is completely still before it turns. The first dive was a disaster. It took only 90 seconds for me to discover that my strobes were not firing. We took the boat back to the camp in the pouring rain.
Second dive, or maybe it should be called the second first dive, we actually came down and followed the steep wall. Immediately I found a group of tiny ghost shrimps showing off on a kelp leaf. After 20 minutes we hit a strange turmoil where two currents were fighting each other from different directions. Both Klas and me were pushed to the surface without a chance to stop the ascent.
I have done thousands and yet thousands of dives and never experienced anything like that. Reaching the surface I started to hesitate. Was it a good idea to go here? Klas looked surprised and said: “That was a pretty weird current”. “Great start”, was all I could say and then we had to laugh about it.
This minute banded chink shell, 4 mm, is chewing on a kelp leaf.
After this rough start we got it together and quite quickly found “our” way and our favourite spots. Already on the third dive we found a steep majestic wall that turns into a slope after a while with big boulders. Outside the wall there is a constant motion of fish. I was told that on this short wall there is standing at least one ton of coalfish. The wall itself is glowing of yellow, soft corals and every square centimetre is covered with filtering animals.
The Atlantic wolffish’ favourite snack is the
gonads of the kelp-grazing sea urchins. Yummie!
Around the big boulders we found two Atlantic wolffish lying cheek to cheek in a large lair. These bulky tough fish are one of Saltstraumen’s main characters and they did not mind us approaching very close. Later we dubbed this boulder area “wolffish slope” as we found 10 residential wolffish staying here all the time. The adventure had just started and we were in high spirits again. Do not miss the Saltstraumen adventure in blog 2 & 3.
Please note that blogs reflect our photographers' opinions and not necessarily those of the directors of Wild Wonders of Europe.