A warm thank you for a great week with firmm

by firmm Team

Text and Photos: Eva-Maria Hanninger

Excursions and field biology trips are often the order of the day during a biology degree. I believe that it is the time away from the lecture hall that is most vividly remembered and often groundbreaking. In my case, a marine biology excursion to Tarifa had a significant impact on my further path. This trip is offered annually by the University of Basel and is led by Professor Patricia Holm. When I signed up for this excursion in 2018, however, I had no idea how much these experiences would influence my future. Biology offers a broad spectrum to specialise in and at that time I had no idea what path I wanted to pursue.

The trip to Tarifa was not only my first contact with the foundation firmm, but it was also the first time for me to see whales and dolphins. I was fascinated by these graceful, intelligent animals and looked forward to every trip with firmm. At the same time, however, I was shocked how much these animals have to suffer because of human factors. When it was time for me to think about a topic for my master's thesis, the first thing I asked Professor Holm was whether it would be possible to collaborate with firmm. This wish was granted.firmm provides me with photos from 2016 to 2020 to evaluate the health condition of the animals.

I was aware of the fact that the Strait of Gibraltar is an inhospitable place for these animals. However, I only became aware of the true extent of the threats when I looked into the issue in more detail.

The immense shipping traffic, intensive commercial fishing and unregulated recreational fishing pose a significant risk of injury to the animals. Malnutrition, the noise of the boats and environmental pollution can weaken the animals' immune systems and promote the development of diseases. However, there are countless arguments for the protection of these species. These animals are important for the stability of marine ecosystems and play an essential role in the food and carbon cycles in the sea. Not to mention that the grace of these animals fills every observer with joy, and we can learn a lot from their social behaviour. Protecting these species requires increased public awareness and a change in thinking by each and every one of us. firmm has been doing valuable work in research and public education for decades. I hope that my master's thesis can contribute a small piece to this work.

Now that the pandemic situation has calmed down a bit, at least in the meantime, the choice of my holiday destination this year was obvious. I wanted to see the animals in the wild again and was warmly welcomed by firmm. A big thank you to Katharina, Jörn and the whole firmm team. You gave me a week full of unforgettable moments. Every trip was a highlight. Large schools of Pilot Whales, among which I was able to rediscover one or the other animal from the photos. Groups of Bottlenose Dolphins and Striped Dolphins that seemed to accompany the boat for a while, occasionally performing breathtaking jumps. And as a grand finale, you gave me a special treat on the last day of my holiday.

I was on my way to a dive when I got a call that the Orcas had been spotted. I immediately dropped everything.

Until now I have never been lucky enough to see these animals and you have fulfilled my heart's desire. Thank you very much for this call. Thanks to you, I was able to watch a family of Orcas eating a tuna. Lucia and her calf were also there. On the way back to Tarifa we finally met three Fin Whales, which were heading towards the Atlantic Ocean at high speed. I couldn't have wished for a better last day of my holiday!

A big thank you also to Jörn! With your many years of experience, you were a great help to me in answering many of my questions! Thank you very much for taking the time for me. Thank you all for an unforgettable week. A week full of whale sightings, interesting conversations, and nice encounters! I have been with you three times now and have been lucky enough to see almost all the dolphin and whale species. I am still missing the Common Dolphin. In other words, I will definitely be back!

I wish you a great whale watching season with many beautiful trips and as little Levante as possible!
Best wishes

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