About charlas, fin whale babies and good karma – The everyday life of a volunteer at firmm

by firmm Team

Text:Annika Kreuzer;Fotos: firmm

I suppose I should start this blog post by explaining to you exactly what a Charla is (if you've even studied the title so thoroughly :)) and what a volunteer at firmm does all day long. We´ll get back to that later.

Rather, I’d like to start by telling you the story of how I ended up in Tarifa to work for firmm. That's where we start right now.

When I moved out of my parents' house for my studies (no, I did not study marine biology), my mother recorded for me every kind of animal and nature documentary she came across on television. She knew that my green heart had long been beating for the protection of the environment and animals. So, every time I visited my parents over the weekend, the first thing on the agenda was a marathon of various documentaries and films. Although my mum only meant well with me (looking back, I’m of course very grateful to my mother. If you read this mum: Thanks for everything!) after a while I was really annoyed by all the film material that I "had to" watch all the time. Once, when I visited my parents last year in November, my mother - how could it be otherwise - had another film for me, which she had watched before and recorded for me. It was the movie "Last Giants - When the Sea Dies". A film about the efforts of Katharina Heyer from Switzerland to protect the whales and dolphins in the Strait of Gibraltar. That was the first time I heard about firmm.

Are you surprised that there are actually whales and dolphins living off the coast of Spain?

At least I was. When I finished watching "Last Giants" I immediately switched on my laptop and contacted firmm. From that moment on everything went really fast. Today I've been here in beautiful Tarifa for almost four weeks now and I'm writing out these lines from the couch of our volunteer apartment. Outside, the Levante is raging (if you come to Tarifa yourself, you will get acquainted with the winds very quickly) and for this reason, it's not possible to do any boat trips today. In the four weeks since the beginning of the season, I've tried to be on board as many times as possible. I just can't get enough of the fresh sea air and the sight of the animals.

The task of a volunteer is not only to accompany the boat trips, but also to hold the Charlas before boarding. At the beginning of my blog, I had promised to return to the Charlas and hereby I'm doing so. Charla means "talk" in Spanish. Before each boat trip, we hold informative lectures in many different languages (I personally give the Charla in German and English) about the Strait of Gibraltar and the whales and dolphins living here. Did you know for example that a sperm whale can dive up to 3000m deep and feed on 13-17m long giant squids? I didn't know that and I really want the picture of 17 meters long giant squids to vanish from my head as quickly as possible. A fin whale, on the other hand, can live up to 100 years and is the second largest animal on earth after the blue whale. I didn't know that either. To look into the faces of our guests and see how they marvel at the uniqueness and the capacities of each individual whale species is for me the greatest thing about holding the Charla.


Now I could close this blog post by urging you all to protect our environment and live a sustainable life. I believe, however, that all the appeals remain unheard, until the moment when one sees the beauty of our earth with one's own eyes. That's exactly what happened to me.

The other day, when I was accompanying a boat trip, a group of British Master's students and their professor were on board. The professor told me that he had already done some whale watching tours before and it seems to him that luck really is on his side as he has always seen big animals that are actually hard to spot. I had to smile. After the boat slowed down again shortly after leaving the harbour and the blow of a large animal was sighted from a distance, I was sure that this had to be the blow of a sperm whale (the sperm whale season is in spring and fall and we've already spotted some sperm whales this season). Yeah, that had to be a sperm whale. A murmur spread across the boat. The blow that could be seen looked different from the one of a sperm whale (the sperm whale has its blowhole - unlike all other whale species - not in the middle but on the left side of its huge head; its blow is therefore at a 45 degree angle to the water surface). The speakers on board crackled, I heard the announcement and had the certainty: "This is a Fin whale mother with her baby." Mind you, the first fin whale this season. With baby! (If one can still call a 7-8 meter long young animal a baby). The sight of these huge animals moving evenly and peacefully through the water can't be compared to anything in the world. An incredible calm and serenity flowed through my body and I had the feeling that all the happiness and beauty of this earth shows itself to me in this moment. (Now you probably think I'm too romantic or cheesy. But you may also have become curious and are already planning your trip to Tarifa in this moment. Anyway, we are here waiting for you.)

Finwhale with baby and Tarifa in the background

I looked around and saw the professor at the other end of the boat. He winked at me. When we got off the boat at the end of the ride, I patted him on the shoulder and said "Good Karma". After that, everyone went his own way.

Go back