firmm - Chronology

Chronology of the foundation firmm – of Katharina Heyer's fateful encounter with dolphins and pilot whales 1997 in Tarifa until today.


Christmas 1997: A fateful encounter with dolphins and pilot whales in Tarifa changes the life of Swiss fashion designer Katharina Heyer radically. She gives up her career to devote her life to protect the endangered animals. As a foreigner with a limited proficiency in Spanish she at first experiences great difficulties. But with a lot of confidence Katharina plunges into the adventure.


  • Spring 1998: Founding of the foundation firmm and opening of an office in Tarifa.
  • Friends help to transform the run-down former bar in the Calle Pedro Cortes 4 (today’s
    main office) into a small shop with an office.
  • First season with whale watching trips in the Strait of Gibraltar with the company-owned Zodiac "Beluga" and the chartered boat of the diving school Scorpora.
  • Data collection and lectures for course participants.
  • The collaboration with Orca researcher Diego proves to be a dead end.


  • Initiation of the research method which is still used to date: :
    a) Biodiversity with recording of all the sightings
    b) Photo-identification for recording populations and migrating
    c) mapping of the different whale species
  • New boat„fundación firmm”.


  • Season full of problems, damages on the boat by storms, approximately half of the trips have to be cancelled due to very strong winds.
  • Petition filed against building new dolphinariums in Europe.


  • Already three children camps take place.
  • All of theresearch data 1999/2000 are purloined by a Spanish biologist.
  • Petition launched for the dismissal of Japanese whaling activities to support the international petition.


  • Another boat damage.
  • The data base of the „Long finned Pilotwhale Project“is constantly growing.
  • Initiation of regular lectures about Orcas to the local fishermen.
  • Extension of school lectures, big event with school kids in Marbella.
  • Katharina searches in Morocco for a suitable bay for her planned Dolphin Sanctuary and finds it in Ras Laflouka.


  • New record with 1373 dolphin and whale sightings.
  • Intensifying of the research- and informational work.
  • Marine biologist Jörn Selling and Diego Diaz Piñero, captain and mechanic, join the team..


  • The small boat yields at the end of the season to the new „ firmm UNO” (24 seats).
  • Beginning of the yearly visits by Prof. David Senn with students of the University of Basel for research on plankton in the Strait of Gibraltar, which continue up to today.


  • Research and information are further expanded and professionalized.
  • The leasing of the fishing rights by the Spanish to the Japanese lead to the arrival of a factory ship in the port of Tarifa, where tons of red tuna are slaughtered.


  • Record number of visitors
  • For the first time both boats are running simultaneously during the high season.
  • Sightings climb upto 1.870, less than 1% trips without sightings..
  • Newly Katharina can count on the vigorous assistance of office manager Nina Cziczek.


  • A larger boat is necessary.
  • Employmentof a second captain for the whole season,Sebastian Gonzalez.
  • For the first time, the Academia Engiadina School of Tourism comes with students to microscope plankton and to create an access database.
  • Over the past 10 years firmm has been giving between 5.000 and 7.500 short lectures with over 50 volunteers in five different languages.
  • Start of cooperation with the Aldiana Hotels in Chiclana and Alcaidesa.
  • A dead Humpback Whale strands in Zahara.
  • Highlight: Sperm Whale mating!


  • The year of strandings (1 Pilot Whale,2 Beaked Whales and even 1 Sperm Whale).
  • Shooting manoeuvre in the Strait by the Spanish army.
  • Unfortunately injured Pilot Whales are sighted again whose wounds can be traced back to collisions with boats.
  • Tough 11th season for firmm with strenuous waiting for the arrival of the new boat „firmm Spirit“ until its first trip on August 14th.
  • Due to the higher capacity of the boat only 450 whale watching trips take place.
  • New team member: Eduardo Montana Peralto, marinero.
  • Approximately 1500-1600 short lectures given by the volunteers, this is a new record.


  • Successful season with new record numbers of guests as well as of sightings.
  • New regulations for the necessary captain papers shortly stall all activities.
  • The documentary “The Last Giants - Wenn das Meer stirbt” about the whales and dolphins in the Strait of Gibraltar and Katharina’s work launches in September in the German cinemas.


  • Turbulent season with short-term investment in a new boat of the same size as the „firmm Spirit“, named „firmm Fly Blue“.
  • Two new employees necessary to take care of the growing amount of guests.
  • Sightings: Few Sperm Whales, but lots of Fin Whales and extra-large groups of Common Dolphins (more than 1000 animals) and Striped Dolphins (up to 500), Pilot Whales and Bottlenose Dolphins with several calves.
  • Orcas show up occasionally between mid July and mid August and to our big surprise once again in October.


  • Season of the extremes demanded a lot from us.
  • A cold and rainy spring, a windy and stormy October. The summer compensated for this with record numbers of visitors thanks to little wind.
  • Sightings: Again very few Sperm Whales, but 25 Fin Whales. A record of 38 Orca sightings despite the short tuna fishing season.The last Orca-sighting on October 4th in the Bay of Algeciras!
  • Pilot Whales and Bottlenose Dolphins had a remarkable number of calves.
  • Thanks to our research data of many years we managed to prevent a newly planned ferry line from Tarifa to the new port of Tangier MED which would have cut right through Pilot Whale territory.
  • Our marine biologist Jörn follows the question if and under which conditions the position data of the whales equipped with GPS transmitter can be handed out by the scientists to the whale watching companies.


  • Despite the palpable crisis in Spain the 15th season in Tarifa was satisfactory: last year’s visitor numbers could be slightly exceeded.
  • Extraordinary sightings: 130 Sperm Whale sightings, 34 Fin Whales passed by; between July 4th and the end of September we were able to find the Orcas 59 times - the largest family counted 23 animals!
  • 4 curious Orca calves frequently played around our „firmm-boats!
  • We once again witnessed how the Pilot Whales chased the Orcas.
  • The Pilot Whales had a lot of calves again.
  • The Bottlenose Dolphins offered spectacular shows near the boat and often showed us their newborns.
  • Fortunately, of the Striped and Common Dolphins there are still schools with over 1.000 animals!


  • Much wind and the ongoing crisis in Spain gave everybody a hard time.
  • Thanks to an unexpected mild autumn we nevertheless almost reached the figures of the previous year.
  • All three dolphin species were about equally often sighted.
  • Although we can be satisfied with the Pilot Whale sightings, we still have the impression that there are fewer families in the Strait of Gibraltar.
  • The sightings of Sperm Whales and Fin Whales decreased slightly; the Orcas were regularly seen from July 13th until the end of August.
  • In the group of Orcas, Camacho, the old father of the pod,was missing.Probably he died of old age.The younger Camorro has succeeded him.
  • We have not seen the badly injured Curro since April,although we have often sighted his whole family. It seems that he is also gone.
  • An absolute highlight has been the mating of Sperm Whales in May; three Sperm Whales were involved and around 80 Pilot Whales and 50 Bottlenose Dolphins observed the scene for a long time.


  • Thanks to an exceptionally windless season we can look back to outstandingly good visitor numbers.
  • In October the Levante has given us a break of approximately two weeks, what cannot diminish the overall success of the year.
  • The number of guests interested in the environment has increased and so our work to raise awareness is popular and bears fruit.
  • All dolphin species we have seen more or less equally, with the big schools of Common Dolphins increasing slightly.
  • Among the Pilot Whales we have seen many animals that are available for adoption several times. Fortunately also this year there were many new borns.
  • Nr.117, the oldest Pilot Whale known to us, we unfortunately did not see anymore.
  • The number of Fin Whales adds up to the same number as in the year before, whereas we had an unusual amount of Sperm Whale sightings in May and June. The Sperm Whales even jumped every now and then.
  • The Orca season lasted from June 26th to August 29th, although we saw them again on September 11th and 13th, and once again on October 07th.
  • Also the Orcas had many juveniles with them at the end of the season.
  • Thanks to a well-functioning team the season went really well.


  • Another record year in every respect. We have never made so many trips, recorded so many sightings and worked for so many hours.
  • June was with 16 days of Levante the worst month, but July and August due to little wind were among the best months ever.
  • All in all a really satisfying season.
  • We saw the Orcas three times in May and then regularly from June 30th to August 27th.
  • Sperm Whales we saw only about 110 times, that comes to less than one third of the sightings of the year 2014.
  • Fin Whales on the other hand we saw more than 37 times.
  • The Pilot Whales especially in spring had many babies, who caused great interest amongst our guests. More than 970 encounters provide a lot of information.
  • The adoptions are very well received. The most popular was the little Orca Baby Wilson, followed by the male Orca Camorro and the Bottlenose Dolphin Baby Leila with his mother Melissa.Followed in 4thplace by the Sperm Whale Observador. About all the animals we reported on a regular basis in our blogs.
  • The staff in Tarifa was reinforced and functioned harmonious and highly efficient onthe sea as well as on land.


  • Having been blessed with mild wind for two years, we were faced with an extremely windy summer. 11 days of Levante in July, 16days of wind in August in the middle of the peak tourist season and 11 more days in September hit us hard.
    We commissioned our new boat„ firmm VISION at the end of June. Our clients have been delighted with the glass observation facilities below deck..
  • Since spring the port authorities raised the requirements concerning captains and mechanics, and so we had to employ two new captains and two new boat mechanics.
  • After an accelerated period of training we were able to develop a brilliant crew.
  • The shore based team on land once again performed very good work.
  • Our sightings were highly interesting this season: 10 Sperm Whales were in the Strait of Gibraltar for several days. A rare appearance of a Fin Whale with his head out of the water cavorting with Bottlenose Dolphins impressed us. Another Fin Whale played with the high Levante waves and leapt completely out of the water seven times.
  • We also saw a Humpback Whale being harassed by 40 Pilot Whales.Looking for help the nearly 12 meter long whale repeatedly swam underneath our boat. The Pilot Whales obviously defended their territory.
  • The Orcas showed up punctually on the 2nd of July.But they unfortunately already disappeared on the 23rd of August in direction Portugal.Camacho and the female called “Matriarchin” we didn’t see the whole summer. But Baby Wilson, our favourite whale available for adoption, has shown himself often together with three other young Orcas.


  • The 20th year of firmm in Tarifa!
  • The sighting chances are still 99 percent.
  • Already the 2nd year with a lot of wind. Over 100 days without tours in 7 months are more than last year and hit us very hard.
  • The sightings were usually very good and varied.
  • The Orcas arrived on July 1st and stayed continuously until August 9th. After that they were only to be seen sporadically.
  • There has been offspring again: Lucia, who we know well, has become the mother of little Estrella, who was probably born in spring 2017.
  • In September, 10 Sperm Whales were here atthe same time.
  • The Pilot Whales had calves throughout the whole season; their mothers let them inspect the boat.
  • In the Bay of Algecirasthere were over 1.000 Common Dolphins and one wonders why the mothers raise their young where there is enormous traffic and air and water are extremely polluted. Our biologist will look into it.
  • November 24th: Katharina Heyer receives an honorary doctorate from the Faculty of Philosophy and Natural Sciences of the University of Basel as a reward for 20 years of whale and dolphin research in the Strait of Gibraltar.
  • On our additional new website we publish all papers from pupils published in cooperation with firmm and diploma/master theses by students, as well as the work of our biologist and research reviews.


  • In the 21st year we can consider ourselves lucky weather-wise. With only 75 days of wind, we were able to sail more frequently than last year, which was also reflected in a new record number of visitors.
  • There were a noticeably large number of new-borns among the Pilot Whales, but also young Bottlenose Dolphins were to be seen until autumn. Even the Orcas had another new-born, which we baptized Tina.
  • A special Orca day was October 17th, when we unexpectedly saw 14 Orcas, including Baby Wilson with four larger siblings. There was Camorro, Lucia with Estrella and, as a big surprise, the matriarch was also there.
  • The Sperm Whale and Fin Whale sightings were within the usual range and were always impressive. The Striped and Common Dolphins pleased us again and again, also in larger groups, whereby it was noticeable that the Common Dolphins often came very close to the boat.
  • Four new Pilot Whales can be adopted: Oliver, Willy, Pomares and the wounded Lola. We hope they all survive the winter.