A coalfish, Pollachius virens, swimming in the current creating its own vibrating pattern.
Only a couple of days remained and we still had two main characters on the list: the world’s largest anglerfish and the biggest flatfish to be found. Hmm…the discussion was on with our skilled guides Nico and Johnny. These two tough Norsemen know this water like their back pockets. We decided to go looking in the night.
An anemone tentacle reaching out for the makrolens and
the body of the Urticina felina is creating the back drop.
Apart from what non-divers believe, diving in the night is not like walking into a dark closet. I bring lights and use strobes and overall it is a great experience. The theory was that maybe it was easier to find and approach these characters in the dark. That afternoon Johnny had seen three halibuts on a shallow shelf in Sundströmmen. We decided that a night dive there, in the wild Sundströmmen, was asking for too much. It would be more risky, less time and difficult conditions to shoot in.
Nico and Johnny told us about a known fishing spot on the far side and into the fjord. People go there to fish for “kveite” - the halibut. It is not a spot where they normally take divers as the scenery is not fantastic. The topography drops straight down into the deep fjord with shelves and sandy patches on the way down. There, further up in Skjerstadfjorden, the water is moving much slower. Both Nico and Johnny thought that over there might be a good chance. “But still you have to be very lucky” said Johnny imitating a Swedish west coaster’s accent.”
A starfish, Asteria rubens, is swaying back and forth on a kelp leaf close to the surface.
We decided to use the water movement as our vehicle, drifting one way and with the boat following us. Dropping down in the dark we found a rather dull slope. We drifted for 20 minutes before the topography changed into a steeper wall with small shelves covered in sand. Nothing happened. Coalfish and cod came in and out of our lights but nothing else. I went into some sort of sleepy “thinking about dinner” mode. It was a big fright when a couple of coalfishes accidentally swam with great force into my stomach. Ouch!
A mighty halibut, Hippoglossus hippoglossus, almost running over me. A thrilling moment!
Then out of the blue, sorry, out of the black, on the shelf, there, only 2 metres away, was suddenly the legend. A cool, calm and collected and very, very big flatfish. The holy fish I thought out loud. A big halibut, Hippoglossus hippoglossus. My own heart was racing, pumping harder as I approached. I heard my own steam train breathing. I stopped instantly and got my camera organised, got my breathing to normal and approached - slowly, very slowly.
First flash is the key. Maybe it stays, maybe not. I knew that but still I did not hesitate and fired away the first image. The big halibut did not mind. Just stayed. I got almost 5 beautiful minutes before she slowly took off swimming in slow motion into the deep. I missed the take-off shot quite gravely in pure excitement. Still I just smiled and laughed into the regulator. Klas and I did high fives and swam around with a disgraceful “bicycle kick” to do our celebration dance underwater. Thank god nobody was watching us. It was a moment of pure joy.
The halibut, the largest of all flat fish, is one of the most impressive hunters in the northern Atlantic. This right-eye flounder’s name is derived from haly, holy, and butt, flat fish. Like all big fish the stories around its size varies but maximum size seems to be around staggering 3,5 metres in length with a maximum weight of 350 kg, but normally they are not that big.
They are voracious predators eating almost anything they can fit into their mouth, which does not include me. Being on top of the food chain the halibut is very sensitive to overfishing. They grow and reproduce extremely slowly and is unfortunately way too popular on the dinner table than what is healthy for its existence. Today the Atlantic halibut is listed as endangered species on the IUCN 2008 red list.
Later we found another two halibuts, but smaller. They were much more nervous and gave us only a short time close by before taking off. As the last halibut left my torch beam, Klas flashed his torch alerting me that something was going on. When done it that very frantic manner it means stop doing whatever you do and come over here. Now!
The monster-like monkfish, Lophius piscatorius, just before
taking off for a surrealistic midwater night swim in the fjord.
Klas’ torch was illuminating a remarkable specimen of the greatest anglerfish in the world, the mysterious monkfish, Lophius piscatorius. The head was huge and a pair of green eyes where glowing in the dark. The monkfish uses a fishing rod to lure in smaller fish in front of its gigantic mouth. The fishing rod is actually the first ray of the first dorsal fin where a meaty tip, the “esca”, can be moved up and down and attract smaller fish. The monkfish just opens its gigantic mouth in a split second and the whole fish is sucked into its mouth. Most anglerfishes, sometimes called frogfishes, use this advanced hunting technique.
The monkfish turning just above my head making a rather unusual pose for
being a Lophius piscatorius, which normally is motionless on the bottom.
Another cool feature on this huge ambusher is that it can walk. They use the pectoral and ventral fins as feet and walk on the bottom of the sea. Most likely to be able to move a fraction here and there without giving away its identity to small happy fish swimming around the camouflaged face.
After a few minutes the monkfish surprises us and swims straight out in mid-water, into the black. I follow the slow fish loosing the bottom as a reference. The monkfish turned after a while, maybe attracted by my torchlight, and swam straight at me. Coming closer and filling up my viewfinder. It even disappears over the camera and stopped on top of my head. This huge fish was lying there for a while and don’t ask me why. I waited and looked at a very entertained Klas.
We swam with the great monkfish in mid-water for a long time and then followed it back to settle on the bottom. It was a somewhat surrealistic experience and it felt kind of nice coming back to the bottom. Phew.
A young wolffish, Anarhichas lupus, with the typical brown tint instead
of the blue. Although young and small one of these youngsters
tried to puncture Klas’ drysuit, but without success.
Our last night we could not resist to make a try at it again. We drifted and searched for a long dive but nothing happened. No halibuts - no monkfish. Just at the end of our long and last Saltstraumen dive we found a cute baby wolffish laying curled up like a kitten on a rock. The young ones being more brownish in colour. In a few moments another young wolffish came swimming by. We got our final salute from the young generation of wolffish that is going to roam the mighty Saltstraumen in the future.
The sea is a hidden place and unfortunately not to be seen by everyone. It is a great responsibility to share the underwater imagery with as many people as possible. Caring about inhabitants and environment is the first step in conservation. I hope some of the images will reflect a fraction of the magnitude of this place. This is wild, wild wildlife in northern Europe. A wild wonder. I am grateful to have had experienced it and to be able to share the experience with you.
Saltstraumen’s whirlpools behind the autumn leaves.
A special place to be re-visited, always with the greatest respect.
Please note that blogs reflect our photographers' opinions and not necessarily those of the directors of Wild Wonders of Europe.