Nudibranchs – are remained to be the main interest of my underwater photography. Hence you can imagine how anxious I was to get to the Dalsøyra, knowing that as of 2016, over 70 species of the shell-less marine mollusks were discovered at the House Reef of the Gulen Dive resort. Thus, after 2 years of dreaming, it has finally happened! February 24th, 2017, I flew to Bergen, to join – Nudibranch Safari – an annual event hosted by the aforementioned resort.

Bergen International Airport
Gulen DIve Resort

Getting to Dalsøyra

I picked Bergen International airport, as the closest hub to the southwest coasts of Norway. Total flight duration, with 3:15 layover in Heathrow, was about 12 hours. (The ticket – Boston>London>Bergen>London>Boston – $510).

On the way to Gulen resort. Route 57 Seim, Hordaland

Despite that resort could’ve arranged the transfer to and from the airport, I decided to get a car so that I’d be able to explore local landmarks. (Upon arrival to Bergen SITX offered me a free upgrade, a larger, 4-door, diesel, manual transmission vehicle. Cost for 8 days with unlimited mileage and complimentary insurance -$360)

Near Gulen Dive resort

Drive time from the airport to Gulen Dive resort was less than 2 hours.  (Tip – if you don’t want to carry with you separate navigation system, you can download HERE 360, available for iOS and Android, it works offline))) Shorter route to Gulen also involves a quick, no more than 10 minutes, ferry (about $12 each way)

Gulen Dive resort

One floor building, located no more than 10 yards from the shore, divided into two sections; one side combines common room with the fully equipped kitchen and the opposite side nests eight sleeping quarters, with various bed configurations and two full bathrooms at the end of the corridor.

Gulen Dive resort

I’ve got a corner apartment with the bunk beds, spacious closet and firmly attached to the wall small, “quarter-moon” shaped table. The room was large enough for the two adults, but I was lucky to occupy this place alone, because I used the other bed to spread my photo gears, batteries and charges. I wished that table was a great deal larger, so instead of sitting on the floor, I could’ve worked on my housing sitting at the table.

Room where I stayed

In the common room, there is a separate table just for that purpose, but it is poorly illuminated and has space only for two men at a time. I was told by Ørjan that “Photo room ” is in the making and should be completed and become operational by the end of the summer.

Common room at Gulen Dive resort

Only during Nudibranch Safari – from february 28th to march 5th – dinners were included, otherwise, I had to take care of my own meals. Guido, resort’s instructor and dive center manager, more or less at any time could take us to the supermarket, but for me, that was another reason to rent a car. I drove a few times to the local grocery stores, to replenish my shelf in the fridge with cold cuts, bread, instant soups, chocolate, fruits, chips and Norwegian beer. In addition, right after the morning dive, Guido was preparing fresh waffles, coffee and tea.

Kitchen  area at Gulen Dive resort

At first, I thought about the food situation as a minor hindrance, dealing with it, in my opinion, only interfere with my diving activities. But then, I kind of liked it, I wasn’t tied up to any timetable and could eat what and when I wanted. For instance, on the second day, I made myself salami and cheese sandwich, packed a beer, drove to the next village, stopped by the road and had a very “picturesque” lunch. Plus, if needed, there were a few restaurants in a short driving distance from the resort.

Eivindvik, Sogn og Fjordane, Norway

Roadside picnic. On a way to Eivindvik

Diving Gulen House Reef

Most of my dives, 13 out of a total of 15, were made at the House Reef. Basically, the Gulen resort promotes and supports unlimited diving at their House Reef. You must be out of the water only during departure and arrival of the waterbus “Solundur” (the schedule was posted on the board). The other safety precaution – a ledger where diver must indicate maximum time he or she is planning to be underwater, this way Guido can track diver’s progress and watch after your safety. Otherwise, you can dive all day long.

House Reef at Gulen Dive resort

An entrance to the water was just in 50-60 feet from the filling station. A short walk to the lowest point of the pier, giant stride and you are submerging into Gulen House Reef. And let me tell you, it is an amazing place to explore.

At the  House Reef. Photo Courtesy of Christian Skauge

At first, and I am not kidding, I thought I jumped into the artificial pool. I couldn’t believe present visibility, it was at least 60-70 feet. Before my first plunge, Guido described to me reef’s underwater topography. And now imagine how surprised I was to see clearly all the closest, as well as the farthest mentioned points, literally as soon as I began my descent.

Light bulb sea squirt (Clavelina lepadiformis)

As you hover over the bottom, you can see a few pipes, which help you to navigate the reef with ease. One of the pipes will take you to the farthest point of the “Flabellina Mountain”, where, if you wish, you can turn around and slowly navigated rocky hill back to the pier, finding all kind of beautiful members of the Opisthobranchia subclass.  Oh, and by the way, don’t forget to stop by “Nudibranch Hotel”)

Onchidoris muricata

Upon returning to the pier, during safety stop, you can explore a wall, it has lots of gaps and cracks. Below you can find a schematic of the House Reef, red dots are the places to find lots of nudis. The water temperature, depending on depth, variated between 41F and 48F (5C-9C).

Map of the House Reef. Photo courtesy of Christian Skauge

Diving Fernedale and Parat

Friday the 3ed, the day turned to be just perfect for the boat trip to the Segelstein Rock. Resort’s yacht is the latest acquisition, designed to explore Norwegian coast in great comfort. For the very first time, I experienced scubalift … well, I don’t know what is the official name of such mechanism, so I’ll call it – scubalift … in Scotland, diving with Marine Quest and was very pleased seeing that stern of this boat also equipped with a such a convenient way to get in and out of the water.

The cockpit of the yacht

Inside there are plenty of room to relax and, if wished, to enjoy a hot meal, tea, coffee. But I spent all 20-25 minutes, which took Ørjan to navigate to the dive-site, on the sun deck, taking pictures of the breathtaking landscape.

Going through the fjords of Norway

Upon arriving we all were informed that Segelstein Rock is where two WWII German boats Ferndale and Parat found their eternal peace (here you can find more onformation about those wrecks).

Segelstein rock

Stern of the Fernedale located just 20 feet deep from the surface. Since wreck sits almost vertically, you can go as deep as 200 feet, but that is way over my limits, therefore I explored it going no deeper than 85 feet, finding one nudi I was looking for – Flabellina pedata. I dove with Dr. Tatyana Korshunova (about her a bit later) and she helped me to locate another tiny nudibranch that I was unable to find on my own, Diaphorodoris luteocincta.

Flabellina pedata

Diaphorodoris luteocincta

Nudibranch Safari

If I am not mistaken, 2017 was the 8th year as Gulen Dive resort hosted its famous event. And that, by the way, was the main reason why I’ve decided to go to Norway, I wanted to see, to listen and to learn about nudibranchs from the world-renowned specialists.

From left; Dr. Alexander Martynov, Bernard Picton, Timur Kholodenko and Dr. Torkild Bakken. Photo courtesy of Christian Skauge

Alexander Martynov. todivetoday.com

Dr. Alexander Martynov

As previously, this year the panel of experts represented three countries; Dr. Alexander Martynov and DR. Tatiana Korshunova – from Russian Federation – Alexander is the scientist of the Zoological Museum of Moscow State University. He is the author of more than 80 scientific publications (including monographs) and co-author of the color guide “Opisthobranch mollusks of the Seas of Russia” (in the Russian language). Since 1992 he has described 30 new species, 9 new genera and 1 new family.

Tatyana  – is the senior scientist of Koltsov Institute of Developmental Biology in Moscow. Major fields of scientific interests – cells and molecular mechanisms of behavior. She is the co-author of many scientific papers on nudibranchs mollusks, including a description of 21 new species and 2 new genera. She is also co-author of the “Opisthobranch mollusks of the Seas of Russia”.

Tatiana Korshunova. todivetoday.com

Tatiana Korshunova

2017.03.Bernard Picton. todivetoday.com

Dr. Bernard Picton

Dr. Bernard Picton – Northern Ireland – considered, as one of the world’s most know expert on nudibranchs. He is the curator of Marine Invertebrates Department of Natural Sciences National Museums and the author of “A Field Guide to the Nudibranchs of the British Isles”.

Dr. Scient Torkild Bakken – Norway – the head of Department of Natural History Museum of the Norwegian University of Science and Technology. Besides his main research on biosystematics and biogeography, he also has a great interest in nudibranch. His research is focused on phylogeny (the evolutionary development and diversification of a species or group of organisms), taxonomy (classification of organisms) and biogeography (geographical distribution of plants and animals) of marine invertebrates along the Norwegian coast.

(Descriptions of the specialists are abbreviated versions, from this page of the Gulen Dive resort site)

Dr. Torkild Bakken talks about DNA barcoding

As you see, all participants of Nudibranch Safari had an amazing chance to learn from the very best. The “field lab” was set up in the next room to the “200 Bar”. There were powerful microscopes, secure table-mount camera station, properly labeled refrigerators, wide-screen monitors, plenty of literature and tons of enthusiasm. And that how we all, just for a few days, but became citizen scientists.

The “field lab” at Gulen Dive resort

Norwegian authority grants permit for species collection, therefore each diver received a plastic box, to gather and bring nudibranchs to the lab. It was not a mandatory task, and some divers only took pictures, but we all were explained what and how to collect. For instance, we were advised to bring only large members of the sea slugs and not to bother with already well-described species. All collected nudis were retained in the fresh seawater and the lab room temperature was kept cold.

Under microscope

Throughout all day, there always were one or two scientists working in the lab. And they, with great eagerness, were ready to explain or to answer any question.

  • Alexander, I see a small bump between ceratas, what is that?
  • Bump between ceratas! – Alexander turns his head towards me – That’s, most likely, nudibranch’s heart.

He puts his camera on the table, approaches my station and sits next to me. Then, he increases the magnification of my Leica, readjusts the focus, carefully repositions a dish with Flabellina and yields me space in front of the microscope.

  • Take a look now, and you’ll see a two-chambered heart.

A few seconds later, I am seeing, through the transparent skin, a drop-like shape, pulsating pouch. WOW!!!

Below is my feeble attempt, through one eyepiece of the microscope, using an iPhone))) to record beating heart of Flabellina lineata.

Beating heart of the Flabellina lineata

On the first day, Christian Skauge (SCUBAPixel.com), one of the organizers, talked about his approach and gave some guidelines how to take an engaging picture of the nudibranchs. During the second day of the Safari, between morning and afternoon dives, Bernard Picton gave the first part of his lecture “What is the nudibranch?” On the next day, Torkild Bakken talked about DNA barcoding, a new tool to identify genetic characteristics. In the evening, due to my diving activities, I missed Alexander’s first talk about his travels and methods of cataloging nudibranchs.

DNA barcoding by Torkild Bakken

The following day Bernard Picton continued with the second part of “What is the nudibranch?”. And the last lecture – “How to distinguish species of the genus Dendronotus which are occurred at the Gulen Dive resort” – was presented by Alexander Martynov. So, as I mentioned before, we all had a great chance to learn about nudibranchs from the best in the field.

Dendronotus frondosus

We continue to dive and to find more and more nudis. Each year, during Nudibranch Safari, Gulen Dive resort keeps the official score of now many new species, previously unseen in local waters, will be found at the Gulen. And this year, 3 new members of Opisthobranchia were discovered at the House Reef.

Gulen Dive resort 2017 Nudibranch Safari Hitlist

And so it happened, that on my second day of diving, I was lucky to spot and to add Cuthona caerulea to the list of “newcomers”. (That is unseen before at the House Reef of the Gulen Dive resort).

Cuthona caerulea (Trinchesia caerulea)

During just 5 days of 2017 Nudisafari, a total of 50 species were spotted at the Gulen Dive resort. Three, out of those 50’s, were never seen at waters of Gulen before. And if to take into consideration that more than 100 species were spotted along Norwegian coastline, it will be always interesting to come back and try to discover more.

Porania pulvillus

Conclusion

Of course, my report would be incomplete if I did not mention all wonderful folks I had a chance to get acquainted with; Tanja and Bernhard from Germany, Becky Hitchin from Scotland, Peter from Netherland, Bjørnar from Norway and other.

All participants of the 2017 Nudisafari. Photo courtesy of Christian Skauge

I was also very lucky to get to know one of the organizers of the “Nudisafari” Christian Skauge, who is an award-winning underwater photographer from Norway. Adam Hanlon – an underwater photographer and the editor of Wetpixel. Bernard Picton, Alexander Martynov, Tatyana Korshunova, Torkild Bakken, the owners of the Gulen resort Ørjan and his wife Monica.

Adam Hanlon at Segelstein Rock

Also it is very hard not to recognize the man behind diving operation of the resort – Guido, thanks to his fondness for punctuality everything worked like a clock.

Guido checking divers at the House Reef

I definitely would like to come back to the resort for further exploration of its House Reef and other dive spots near Gulen. I can’t even imagine how beautiful this place would be during the summer season! If you, guys, interested, check their dive events;
THE PERIPHYLLA SAFARI
WRECK SAFARI
LEMBEH – GULEN SHOOTOUT 2018
Hence, with great anticipation I am looking forward to my next trip to the Norway, knowing firmly that I will not be disappointed.

Squat lobster (Galathea strigosa)

And now, there is not much left to say, but to express my deepest appreciation to all who was involved into making “Nudibranch Safari” an unforgettable event, memories of which I’ll cherish for years to come.

Thank you, guys… thank you very much and see you very soon)

Cheering the sunset