by Sonja Van Den Bossche

Text and photos: Sonja Van Den Bossche

TARIFA – June 26th, 2016:
After the maiden trip of firmm’s new boat, firmm VISION, on Friday, and some successful tours on this submarine vision boat during the weekend, for the last Sunday afternoon excursion firmm sailed to the dolphins and whales in the Strait of Gibraltar again, but this time on the ‘old and trusted’ firmm Spirit, meeting the latest safety requirements, just like the Visión Submarina. No one could foresee what that trip would be like, but it turned out great…

At 4 p.m. we slowly left the port of Tarifa and passed by the statue of ‘El Sagrado Corazón de Jesús’ at the entrance, protecting the ships, especially the fishing boats, leaving and entering the harbour. I always look up at it, whenever I sail out to sea with firmm, hoping for my own and my fellow passengers’ protection or thankful for our safe return from the sea. Also because it’s so impressive with its height of 25 metres.

The firmm vision moored at the port of Tarifa The statue ‘El Sagrado Corazón de Jesús’ at the entrance of the harbour 

A few minutes after departure the Mediterranean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean were ahead, an immense open space was lying in front of us. The firmm Spirit went full speed and half an hour later firmm’s new captain, Antonio M. Reyes, stopped the boat. Through the loudspeakers we heard Katharina Heyer say: ‘A very large group of striped dolphins is coming our way.’ The captain maneuvred the boat with finesse in parallel with them, the best position for the tourists to watch these animals.

Some time later the common dolphins, recognizable by their beautiful pastel yellow and grey patterns, joined them. From that moment on there was movement everywhere in the water: hundreds of dolphins were swimming in the same direction and ‘porpoising’ or making short jumps out of the water in order to save energy and so to speed up. It was a pleasure to observe them.

Striped dolphins A large group of striped and common dolphins 

As firmm then felt like searching for some other marine mammal species during this two-hour tour, we left the mixed group of common and striped dolphins and continued sailing on the quite bumpy sea, challenging the waves, cutting through them or bouncing over the wave tops with decent speed. It didn’t take long before we met some long-finned pilot whales. What a difference in behaviour with the lively and fast-swimming dolphins seen earlier! These pilot whales were calm and moving very slowly, thus making it easier for everyone to photograph them. When they were very close to the boat, we could even hear them breathe, pushing air out of the lungs. Their deep and loud breathing sounds always make me aware that these creatures are really strong.

Afterwards when the bottlenose dolphins turned up too and mingled with the pilot whales, I had the impression that almost the whole group of cetaceans living here would pass by during this outing at sea. And indeed so it happened…

A pilot whale A bottlenose dolphin 

We had already enjoyed being with the animals for about an hour, when Katharina announced in her usual soft manner: ‘It’s time now to say goodbye to the whales and dolphins in the Strait of Gibraltar and return to Tarifa.’ But then they saw a blast… It was a sperm whale blow! The firmm-boat immediately headed to it and found it pretty soon, though respecting the colossus and watching it from a distance. The gigantic whale was lying on the surface. Breathing. On the left side we could distinguish its head, on the right side its hump. Everyone was waiting and getting the cameras ready for the big moment, when it would prepare to dive: first bending its back, then finally showing its tail fin. Gorgeous!

A sperm whale resting on the surface Starting a dive    

This was certainly a nice extra sighting that firmm gave to its guests. And for me also a perfect end to another fantastic weekend with this foundation: I had not only spotted 5 of the 7 species of marine mammals present in the Strait of Gibraltar during one and the same trip, but the day before also a sleeping sperm whale, floating in the water with its huge square head held up high. Two completely new experiences in only a few hours’ time!

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