Report: Nudibranch Safari 2015

At the Nudibranch Safari 2015 two new species for Norway were recorded, and the overall count on the house reef of Gulen Dive Resort was raised to a staggering 72 species.



Posted on Mar 31, 2015 - updated Apr 27, 2015

The Nudibranch Safari was as usual held in Gulen north of Bergen on the Norwegian west coast in March, and expectations were high. We’ve found good numbers of nudibranchs in the past couple years, and had hopes to increase the species count.

A very international crowd had found their way to Gulen Dive Resort this year, and participants flew or drove in from Northern Ireland, Russia, Germany, Denmark, Holland, France, Switzerland and several places in Norway.

The workshop area was very popular among the participants, and nudibranch studies often went on well into the evening. Here are Bernard Picton and Carla van Westing in front of the stereoscope.

For some it was the first time diving in Norwegian waters, while others had been on the Nudibranch Safari several times and knew what it was all about.

Unfortunately we had a little bad luck with the season: February 2015 was the warmest on record for 140 years, and even the winter alltogether had been warmer than usual.

This resulted in a water temperature of approximately 7 degrees Celcius, which is a little warmer than the nudibranchs of Norway prefer.

A group of divers heading out to look for nudibranchs on one of the daily local boat trips. Expanding the search area a little paid off and produced more species.

Undeterred, the participants went searching and looking, and after a bit of a slow start the species count started rising. We did a few more dives by boat and were able to find spots with a higher count of nudibranchs than just in front of the dive resort.

At the end of the safari we counted a total of 46 different species - not at all bad for a year where we thought we had missed the peak...

The most eager participants did up to four dives a day in addition to attending two lectures and checking out their finds in the workshop area. Rumour had it some of them even got time to grab a little something to eat!

Interesting lectures

Each day, Bernard Picton, curator of marine invertebrates at the National Museums of Northern Ireland in Belfast, held several nudibranch lectures.

The participants got to know more about biology, taxonomy, food sources, mating and of course nudibranch identification, and there was also time for a lecture about underwater photography especially with nudibranchs in mind, held by Christian Skauge.

The workshop area. All collection and study of nudibranchs was conducted in a sensible and careful manner, with nudibranchs being released back into the sea unless needed for further scientific study.

Guests attending the second weekend were also lucky enough to have a special appearance by Dr. Alexander Martynov from the university of Moscow, who attended the Nudibranch Symposium with his wife and colleague Dr. Tanya Korshunova for the second time.

» Click here to follow the Nudibranch Safari on Facebook

Bernard Picton also held a very interesting extra lecture about evolution and DNA which opened up a new window into the world of nudibranchs and taught us how DNA is used for identifying and separating species.

Not high numbers - but high species count

In general we found few dorid nudibranch species, which is not uncommon at Gulen. The sponge-eating species always seem to be quite rare, but this year even the one feeding on bryozoans were hard to find.

Aeolids were as usual abundant in terms of different species, but the numbers were not as high as we have seen on previous occations.

Nudibranch literature was on hand for all to use, and the rare Lophodoris danielsseni here depicted by Henning Lemche was found several times.

In general we found quite a few Flabellina and Eubranchus species, but the Cuthona family seemed harder to spot this year - apart from Cuthona gymnota and Cuthona rubescens which were unusually abundant.

This year we also registered many species just once or twice, but even if numbers were not high they still contributed to a good overall species count.

» Click here to see the nudibrach literature list

Two new species for Norway

Most exciting this year was the find of several strange Doto species. They seem to tolerate a little higher water temperature than many other species, and are usually found larger and more abundant towards May.

After spending hours checking the litterature and scrutinizing the tiny slugs under the microscope, we were with the help of Bernard Picton able to identify not just one but two species never before recorded in Norwegian waters - Doto maculata and Doto dunnei.

The tiny, beautiful Doto dunnei was identified and recorded for the first time in Norway on the Nudibranch Safari at Gulen Dive Resort in March 2016.

Bernard Picton has extensive experience with Doto from his home waters, and he has been involved in describing two species himself, Doto hystrix and Doto hydrallmaniae.

In addition, we still have several animals which need further study and at least one that will perhaps prove to be a new species not yet described by science.

Flabellina variations

Work was also progressing quickly with the Flabellina lineata variations we have been studying the last few years. DNA, microscopy and morphology all point towards two new species, and work is under way to complete the scientific description and a paper for publication.

Although this may still take some time, we're proud and very happy about having participated in discovering a completely new species unknown to science.

A Flabellina sp. under scrutiny in the field lab/workshop area, where magnifiers, nudibranch literature and other aids were at the participants disposal.

Summary

At the Nudibranch Safari 2015 we found and identified 46 different species, including two the species already mentioned which were not previously recorded in Norway.

In doing so we were able to bring the total, overall species count of the Nudibranch Safari up from 68 to 72 species, which is an incredible number! The participants also helped progress the work on several other species on which the scientists are working.

» Click here to see the Nudibranch Safari species list

The last workshop on the Nudibranch Safari 2015 took place after easter, with a Swiss group which did an amazing job finding rare species: Cumanotus beaumonti, Janolus hyalinus (for the third time ever!) and Eubranchus rupium all showed up.

Cumanotus beaumonti (above) has been seen a couple times at Gulen before, but turned up at the Nudibranch Safari for the first time in 2015.

Above is a happy and colorful bunch of nudibranchs getting ready for the "Nudibranch Release Party" where they were all let back into the water!

It's important to underline that no nudibranch were harmed during the Nudibranch Safari. We take great care to keep the slugs happy, and keep them in a fridge overnight - it has the same temperature as the water.

We got a nice surprise when the skies over Gulen flared up with northern lights, and several of the participants saw this spectacular natural phenomenon for the first time:

A big thank you to all the participants who found their way to Gulen Dive Resort this year. We hope you had a great experience and wish to see you again soon!

Nudibranch Safari 2016

Next year's Nudibranch Safari will be held from March 31 to April 13, 2016. Bernard Picton will be there for the duration of the event, and Dr. Klas Malmberg, Dr. Jussi Evertsen and Dr. Torkild Bakken will also attend.

We also hope Dr. Alexander Martynov and Dr. Tatyana Korshunova from the university in Moscow will accept our invitation for the Nudibranch Symposium.

Please click the link below to read more about next year's event and see which experts will hold lectures when.

» Click here to read about the Nudibranch Safari 2016



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