12. firmm-Meeting in Aarau

by firmm Team

The firmm-family is turning more and more international: besides guests from Germany and Austria, two former course participants came all the way from England. Katharina Heyer warmly greeted the virtually 300 attendants and presented them a balanced program.

Season 2009 in Retrospect

Joy and success characterized the season 2009. An unbelievable 17`000 guests, 3´000 guests more as in the previous year, wanted to observe whales and dolphins living in freedom. Due to the boats higher capacity – the “firmm Spirit” newly carries 73 passengers – fewer trips are necessary. Over 1´500 short lectures are held by the volunteers in different languages during a season. Through Katharina’s presentations, numerous Aldiana hotel guests can be enthused for a Whale Watching-Tour.

Gäste beim Whale Watching

The world economical crisis is delaying the monstrous port expansion in Tarifa. Nonetheless new ferry-lines and -operators bring more traffic to the Strait. Moreover the connection between Tarifa and Tanger is supposed to be operated hourly in the future. A lot more information and clarification will be needed to sensitize these new players.

Whale Sightings

At the first glance the number of sightings in 2009 (1´309) seem to retrograde in comparison to 2008 (1´563). This interpretation deceives, since only 412 trips opposing to 440 in 2008 were necessary due to the boats larger capacity. In comparison to the previous year, less striped dolphins and sperm whales were sighted. For the dolphins the over-fishing seems to have a negative impact on them. For the sperm whales, Katharina is speculating on offspring to explain the temporary retreat. The fin whales appeared in great numbers in 2009 and sometimes even were astonishingly close. Also the common dolphins are appearing again in large pods. Unfortunately only a few orcas were seen, which is probably linked to the ruthless mass extermination of the red or bluefin tuna.

In may professor David Senn and professor Patricia Holm arrived with students of the university of Basel. Also the Academia Engiadina, the Bäumlihofgymnasium and Bambino Tours are among the constant visitors, for the first time we had the school of canton Zurich-Oberland here.


2009 was also a year of consolidation for the crew: 15 motivated volunteers joined the approved team. Katharina has some personal words and anecdotes for every one of them.

For photos of the firmm-crew view blog: “behind the scenes “ of December 2009.

Professor David Senn has announced his resignation from the firmm-foundation-board for reasons of age. To succeed him, he proposed professor Patricia Holm. We give sincere thanks to David Senn for his 12-year-activity and with pleasure look forward to the teamwork with the extremely motivated new member of the board.

Prof. David Senn und Prof. Patricia Holm

Eleven Years of collecting Data in the Strait of Gibraltar as a basis for research: What is possible?

In May 2009 statistic expert Dr. Jürgen Holm took on the voluminous firmm-data collection. Many different factors influence the significance and conclusiveness of a statistic. Especially the further interpretation of the data requires know-how and experience from the researchers, as well as from the on-site persons involved.

„The firmm-data are well maintained and of high quality“, remarks statistic expert Dr. Holm. Over 50 variables for almost 14`000 animals and animal groups were recorded by firmm over the last eleven years. By the means of some examples Dr. Holm is explaining the complex interpretation of some of the data. Does the retrogressive number of common dolphin sightings correlate with their mortality due to over-fishing and environmental factors? Is the constantly rising number of pilot whale sightings correlated to a healthy population or the fact that they are the easiest to spot and the firmm-boats specifically go into their territory?


While the fluctuating orca sightings can possibly stand in correlation with the fluctuating tuna-stocks, the statistics can not yet explain if the 2009 reduction in sperm whale sightings is due to natural fluctuations or an established reduction has taken place. Cleary visible over the whole time span of sperm whale encounters are distinct peaks. Marine biologist Jörn Selling classifies this phenomena as a “good” respectively a “bad” year.

The International Whaling Commission (IWC): Can they help firmm?

Brought to life in 1946 to regulate whaling, the 88 IWC contract member states still decide on the worldwide fishing quota of large whale species. Their goal today however is aimed more towards protecting them. Besides these protection efforts, the publishing of guidelines and recommendations is another main working field of the IWC.&60; The catch can be grouped into three categories: commercial, aboriginal (as food for indigenous people) and scientific (with special permits). Approximately 2`000 whales are caught each year. Only 300 whales and dolphins are reported as by-catch. The actual figure probably lays at around 300`000 animals per year.

firmm Logo  IWC Logo

Prof. Dr. Patricia Holm, Swiss delegate in the scientific committee in the IWC, explains why further research about the whales is necessary. Many whale species are only known because of beachings. firmm and the IWC can reciprocally support each other: by making the boats available to scientists and providing the research data, firmm acts as a scientific platform for further research. The contribution of the IWC is anchored in knowledge, which is transferred via firmm to the guests, at international conservation efforts and policies.

Media relations concerning “The Last Giants – Wenn das Meer stirbt“

With a large scale campaign, the movie “The Last Giants – Wenn das Meer stirbt” was launched in September 2009 by Progress Film. To bring a documentary into the cinemas and on TV, necessitates creative basic approaches, explains the media person in charge Nicole Stelzner. Because it was possible for Daniele Grieco and his team to combine apparently known facts with unique images and produce a strong statement with a minimal budget of 40`000 Euros, the encouragement of prominent supporters such as Hannes Jaenicke was won. Event-organizers, Film festivals and the press picked up the movie and television stations such as ZDF, NDR, 3sat, RTL, etc. brought broadcasts about it. The process of renting out the movie in Switzerland is still commencing a little hesitantly. The chances are good though for broadcasting on Swiss channels in the fall 2010. The DVD of the movie will probably be available in the early fall.

N. Stelzner Medienarbeit

Dolphin Resort Morocco: Current Situation

If you were following the commencement of the dolphin-sanctuary right from the beginning, you might think the project barely made progress in 2009. But an important switch took place in the background concerning the investors and fellow combatants. The new forces are Grupo GC (a spanish construction company) and Charity Bank from England.

Hanae Bekkari, a Moroccan architect, plays another essential role by using here valuable connections to push the project on with the Moroccan government officials.

Stiftungsrat Rachid Chrigui und Architektin Hanaeh Bekkari
Photo: Foundation board member Rachid Chrigui and architect Hanaeh Bekkari

Katharina is showing the new blueprints, as they were presented to the Wali (Governer) in Tanger in February.


The assurance of the Grupo GC investor just arrived. Now a holding is being founded. Finally the channels are open again and the signs for the long-desired construction begin are good. Maybe the regained momentum of the first project will also have a positive effect on the second project WAVE ONE in the “Bay of Katharina”?!

Sound Therapy for Dolphins

Vladas Martirosa is sending the audience a video-message, translated by Peter Salzmann. First he presents an inflatable platform for rescuing and transporting dolphins to the whale experts from Lithuania. His actual message is about a new and success-promising therapy: the “inner sound-therapy program” uses the healing sounds of the Solfeggio frequencies. These have an effect on the brain and can lead to a new inner harmony and expand ones consciousness. Vladas hopes to introduce and use this sound-therapy in the dolphin sanctuary in Morocco.

“The Last Giants – Wenn das Meer stirbt”

Six months after the premiere of the movie director Daniele Grieco sums up the outcomes: the movie has fascinated the audience; film critics showed their respect and “The Last Giants” even beat a Disney-movie on the online movie discussion “stern.de”. Nonetheless marine biologist Daniele has no illusions: the knowledge of the people about the threatened habitat is extremely limited and it is still a big step away from change or even reversal. Daily, millions of tons of garbage and radioactive materials are dumped into the sea. Nobody is responsible for the prevailing aquatic surface on our planet; we humans extract food from the oceans and release our trash back into it... Daniele pleads to the consciousness and joint responsibility of every human to finally become active and hinder the further death of our oceans.

Grindwale unter Wasser (Herwarth Voigtmann)
Pilot whales under water, Photo: Herwarth Voigtmann

A Big Thank You

The final acknowledgements are traditionally sent out to the swarm of voluntary helpers. Katharina thanks the “good spirits” in the background: starting with Sebastian, who generated almost 300 members on facebook with firmm in only four months and who implemented all the graphic designs. Heike, Mario and Jürg, responsible for the Internet, Caroline as Swiss-firmm representation while Katharina is absent, 49 booth helpers at holiday trade shows, numerous patrons and donors of material and furnishings. Last but not least Katharina’s thank you goes out to the kitchen, the cashier, the technicians and to everyone who helped contribute every year to the success of the firmm-meeting.

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