Dolphins and whales as guests at a German TV channel
by firmm Team
Text: Alexander Rieger, Photos: firmm
Although I had been living in the south of Spain for five weeks now and my daily work was gradually becoming routine, I enjoyed every moment. The constant thought of where I am, what I am doing at and how extraordinary it is compared to my life in Germany makes me happy. A very fascinating effect for me was the indifference I felt towards the daily working hours. While I was used to the "classic concept" of the 5-day week in Germany, the days in Tarifa blurred into each other. Weekends suddenly turned into working days, where you were sometimes even present until 20:00. The crazy thing about it was: During my whole time as a volunteer this did not bother me for one minute. Rather the opposite was the case. Once you are out on the water, experiencing the animals and the joy of all the people around you, you forget almost everything else. The free days in between even gave me a feeling of vacation during this wonderful time.
On one of these free days I decided to go to Seville with my visitor from Germany who had just arrived. It was about 7 pm and we were just preparing for a cosy evening with tapas and wine when I received a mail from Katharina.
“Hello, Alexander. We were asked if we would like to participate in a story about a German volunteer. And who comes into consideration: our Alexander! Everything else later verbally. Sincerely, Katharina."
As I continued reading Katharina's e-mail, I discovered the original mail from the WDR (a German TV-Channel). Christian Dassel and his team of the WDR bus tour are currently travelling through Spain portraying 15 interesting people who are doing something exciting there. And now, after some research, they came across firmm and would like to interview a volunteer. "And this volunteer should be me?” it rushed through my mind. In a split second I decided almost out of control that this sounds like an exciting experience. As if automatically and without much further thought, I called out to my visitor with a laugh:
„Hey, I'm going to be on TV! “
In excerpts I told about Katharina's unexpected mail and the information it contained. Enthusiasm spread in our small group. There was even a small applause– even though I did not contribute anything to the situation I found myself in. I'm in," I answered Katharina before the planned evening in Seville began.
That this request was indeed meant seriously I discovered already the next morning when a mail from Christian Dassel's team landed in my mailbox. „We are glad that it works out. We would like to come by on the 10th of August 2019 with our camera team. Before that we would like to talk to Alexander on the phone to explain the details.“, it said. „"On August 10th?” it flashed through my mind. "That is already in five days!” What still felt incredibly far away when I accepted the offer was now going to catch up with me faster than I would have liked. I felt scepticism.
„Did I really think it over?
Why me and not another volunteer? Is that mandatory or can I reconsider?". Without any concrete answers to these questions I started to suppress my thoughts about the shooting and convinced myself that everything would be fine. It helped and diminished the excitement a little bit. But even the best mental repression is of little help when you fight against time. And so, I had to come to terms with the thought that I would probably soon be seen on German television. "Well, well, how many people will see this anyway?" I asked and tried to reassure myself.
As time was pressing until the recording, I decided to call the camera team the next day to do the preliminary talks. On the phone I was welcomed by the dear, benevolent, and friendly voice of Barbara. She told me something about the concept of the show, briefly introduced the camera team and then surprisingly quickly turned the floor over to me. We talked a little bit about me, my life in Germany and my motivation to do a voluntary job at firmm in southern Spain. Then we quickly changed to the subject of whale and dolphin watching. Each of us told about our own experiences with the animals in earlier years and the fascination that lasted until now. I was a bit perplexed how quickly one can feel close to people who are complete strangers if you share a passion in such an understanding and interested way. Eventually we came to talk about the whales and dolphins in the Strait of Gibraltar. I told them about the whales we were likely to encounter on the day of shooting, how they behave and what time of day might be suitable for a joint tour. Barbara listened to me enthusiastically - and probably the whole rest of the team as well.
"Will we see Orcas?" she asked me. "I love Orcas.”
I had heard this question countless times on the boat and like I had told many guests before, I explained to Barbara that the chances to see them are not very good. We had not seen them for many days. In addition, the time of a two-hour boat tour was usually not enough to drive into the area where we normally expect the Orcas. So, the probability was very small. "But we will certainly see many other great animals," I encouraged her. "No matter what time you choose, it will definitely be worth it." I could feel Barbara's anticipation rising. However, the question that interested me most - namely how the day was planned by the WDR - remained unanswered. Somehow I had the idea that there must be some kind of precise schedule and well-structured guidelines for everyone involved in the shooting.“In television everything is always planned very precisely, and everyone knows one hundred percent what to do," I thought quietly. However, it was only later that I realized that I was confusing the WDR bus tour with the shooting of a movie. During the telephone conversation I realized that there is no defined script. Everything was meant to be as authentic as possible. No plans, no previous meetings, no rehearsals. "We would simply like to accompany you during your normal working day in Tarifa and get an insight into how being a volunteer at firmm works. The viewer should not get the impression that we have coordinated everything with each other", said Barbara. "That's why we would like to film directly on our first meeting, if that's okay with you," she added. "We can do it that way," I said, laughing with nervousness and agitation. The fact that I was told that the WDR Bus Tour has about one million viewers per show did not really help to diminish my excitement. Nevertheless, there was no going back. "Very nice. Then we are looking forward to getting to know each other and to the day with you in Tarifa," Barbara said before we both finally hung up. With a somewhat queasy feeling I walked back to the firmm office in the harbour and coordinated the arrival of the WDR team and their participation in the 12:00 o'clock boat tour with my colleagues. Despite the discreetly existing excitement, I spent the few days until the shooting in the usual Spanish calmness. It was only when the day of the filming arrived that the nervousness returned.
It is August the 10th 2019. Today was the day
- my first shooting with a television team. After a rather short breakfast and my hope not to look completely awkward, I set off on foot to the nearby meeting point at the firmm-Centro. Shortly before my arrival my colleague Barbara sent me a photo of the WDR bus waiting for me in front of the firmm office.
Now it is getting serious," I thought. My excitement, which at the time was still suppressed, rose almost explosively when I saw the TV team around Christian Dassel a few metres ahead of me. On the few remaining metres, I tried to rehearse some words.
„Just appear relaxed and calm, don't forget to talk, be convincing, don't talk nonsense, walk straight, smile, look into the camera, be yourself“,
I tried to tell myself again and again. But when the moment came, my own advices were forgotten, and I simply experienced the moment with those words that came to my mind. Maybe not necessarily the best choice, but in any case, authentic and not artificial.
I greeted Christian and the team and we started chatting a bit. I explained which animals we would probably see today. Besides the Pilot Whales, the species we probably see most often - I told them about the Common Dolphins, the Bottlenose Dolphins, and the Striped Dolphins. After roughly one minute the recording of the scene was already over. "It wasn't as exciting and bad as I thought it would be," I pondered silently. Christian and his team were wonderfully friendly and after the first interview we got to know each other without the camera. But we did not have much time, because it was now about 09:45 a.m. There were only about 20 minutes left until the start of the Charla - the information talk before every boat trip. So, we were already a little late, because there was a lot to prepare before the lecture. Changing clothes, wiring the microphone, sound test, driving the WDR bus away, preparing the Charla folder and of course the most important thing: walking to the harbour and setting up the chairs for all visitors.
The lecture itself went very well, despite a somewhat unusual situation due to our special guests. The routine, which I could already acquire through countless lectures before, helped to hide the excitement. Nevertheless, the visit of a television crew was not an everyday event and even the guests of today's tour noticed that this trip was probably a little more unusual.
After the lecture it had to go quite fast as so often. Answering short questions of the guests, at the same time putting away chairs and afterwards sprinting back to the firmm office to wait for the starting signal for the tour. Unfortunately, there was not much time for questions from Christian and his team.
„The boat is here. You can go“,
was the message almost immediately when I arrived at the harbour office. As usual, I tried to tell as many people as possible in German, English and Spanish that the tour is starting and that they should follow me to the boat. Arriving there, Edeltraud - another volunteer with firmm (already for many years) - and I checked the tickets of the guests together. At the same time Christian tried to ask me some questions, but there was no time for that. From the landing stage I heard Katharina shouting that everyone had to go on board because the next boat was already waiting to dock.
Then the tour started. In our usual leisureliness we slowly left the harbour according to the regulations. Even after countless journeys, this was always an exciting moment, because at that time you did not know which animals you would encounter. Not yet completely out of the harbour I heard Edeltraud calling from the side: "You take care of the WDR team today, I'll take care of the guests! Luckily firmm assigned her today to support me on the boat. And that turned out to be very good. As soon as the trip really started, Christian asked me to sit down next to him in the middle of the boat to answer a few questions. Sitting a few centimetres next to him and the camera right in front of his nose, I was a little nervous. After all, I still did not know what questions he would ask me. But as in the morning, all the excitement was in vain. Because the relaxed and easy atmosphere of the conversation contributed a lot to the fact that I was able to ignore the circumstances and the camera.
We talked about how long we are going to be out now, the chances of seeing animals and about the whale and dolphin species we were likely to encounter today. The interview mostly consisted of short, maybe one or two minutes long, single shots. Christian informed me once again that he would like to record different scenes and then put them together afterwards. "In the end this should be a nice, round story for the viewer," he said to me during a short break. While I watched Edeltraud with one eye as she diligently worked on the boat, I had the chance to talk to Christian and his team without the camera on. That was quite exciting. For the first time I learned something about the development of the WDR bus tour, the remarkable efforts behind it and the motivation that drove the team. We talked a little bit about past shooting days and the most exciting situations Christian has experienced so far. In the middle of the conversation, however, we were interrupted. On our starboard side the first dolphins were gathering. Our boat slowed down a bit. "A large group of dolphins on the right side of the boat", Katharina could be heard calling through the loudspeakers of the firmm Vision at the same time. What the guests were now presented with was indescribable. A huge school of Striped Dolphins accompanied us for several minutes in only a few meters distance. The guests literally ran to the right side of the boat to observe and photograph the animals. No matter where you looked - we were surrounded by dolphins. Even some young animals could be seen. Everywhere the excitement and enthusiasm of the guests could be felt. Even Christian and his team were perplexed.
„Wow, that's crazy! So many animals at once!“,
I heard him saying again and again. However, I could hardly answer the question of how many animals we saw there. The fast movements of the dolphins and the constant ascending and descending made a count almost impossible. But one thing was clear: Such a large school of Striped Dolphins was not common. So, we were very lucky to have such a successful sighting. Everyone enjoyed this incredible moment. It then took a while before we decided to leave the dolphins and to look for another species. Our boat set course into the area of the Pilot Whales - at least where we expected them to be. Christian went with me to the bow of the firmm Vision and together we kept looking for animals.
But for minutes we saw nothing, so that we returned to the middle of the boat. Suddenly, intense excitement set in. Agitated shouting and screaming could be heard. I signalled Christian that we would meet again at the bow of the boat. In all the excitement it was not easy to move through all the guests, some of whom were standing very close together in the narrow corridors. Arriving at the bow I could hardly understand where all the commotion came from. I looked up to our captain and to Katharina and tried to find out which animals they saw. Suddenly I heard somebody calling: "Orcas! Orcas!” Uncertain, I tried to look through the crowds to the water.
„Orcas? Here? Now?“,
I thought. It seemed unbelievable since we were in an area completely untypical for Orcas. But at some point, I was able to catch a glimpse and was stunned. It was really true! They were back! We had not seen them for about 14 days now and meanwhile we almost lost hope to see them again. The fact that we saw these animals, at a completely unusual place while we were actually looking for Pilot Whales, was extremely surprising for everyone.
Christian came to me excited: "Orcas? Really, Orcas?" he shouted. "How many are there?” A bit uncertain I told him that I heard something between three and five from another guest. But as it turned out just a moment later, there should be many, many more. Katharina counted and later noted in her observation sheets 15 - 18 animals, as she told me afterwards. The Orcas moved from the Mediterranean into the Atlantic Ocean and crossed our route by chance. They had several new-borns with them, which, it seemed, were probably born in the Mediterranean. We followed the Orcas for several minutes, which felt like hours. It was one of those moments that could move to tears. The animals radiated a kind of calmness, elegance, serenity, and peace that is almost impossible to express in words.
For all those present on the boat these were moments of happiness that were second to none. In all my journeys I had never experienced anything like that and even Katharina told me afterwards how unique such an encounter is. The joy and good mood were written in the faces of all the people on the boat. Edeltraud and I hugged each other. It was one of those great moments that nobody really expected. With joy I told Christian probably five times how lucky they were to be on board the firmm Vision during this tour. As a tourist being only one time on one of our boats, one might think that such sightings were a regular occurrence. But what we saw today was everything but normal. Such a moment will be remembered forever by everyone involved.
We used as much time as possible on the water to follow the Orcas before we headed back to the harbour. The return trip took about 30 minutes and although the animals were long gone, we could see the joy of the guests. Christian used the return trip to have a short interview with Katharina. The enthusiasm was also clearly noticeable in her. Back in the harbour everybody took a breath of fresh air. Christian, his team, and I decided to take a short lunch break. While eating tapas we had some time to evaluate the boat trip and get to know each other a little better. I learned more about the motivation and reasons of the individual team members to start working in television, which was quite interesting. We drank, laughed, enjoyed the food, and then set off for the last part of the joint shooting day. Christian wanted to have another undisturbed interview with me. So, we decided to walk to the entrance of the harbour, near the statue El Sagrado Corazón de Jesús. Once there we sat down on the wall and let the day end.
In the interview, I relived the ride I had just taken and described again what made it so special. Afterwards I told Christian more about what it means to me to work as a volunteer, why I decided to do it and what the most important thing is that I take away from this time for myself. Especially the last question could not be answered exactly. Apart from the impressive emotions of so many boat trips, the incredible beauty of the whales and dolphins in the Strait of Gibraltar and the great impressions of landscape and nature, it is above all the wonderful, impressive people whose lives I got to know a little and the mutual friendship that still connects us today.
The recording stopped. "Very nice. That’s it," Christian called to me. He thanked me for this exciting, interesting, and great day and walked with me back towards the WDR bus. Here we finally said goodbye to each other.
I would like to thank firmm and the whole WDR Bustour team for this unique opportunity and these wonderful, great memories.