The season 2020 has ended

The summer holidays are over and Tarifa's streets have been empty since the beginning of September. We have therefore also closed down for this year.

Despite the short season we had many special sightings. We hope that the situation will become normal by the next season and can't wait to take you out to see the whales again from the 26th of March 2021 on.

See you soon in Tarifa, Katharina Heyer and the firmm team

Mondrino part 1 - Maternal Instinct

by Jörn Selling

Text and Fotos: Jörn Selling (Marine biologist of firmm)

Many of you have maybe seen in documentary films how a duck protects her chicks against the approaching fox: she pretends having one wing broken and this way manages to detract the fox from her chicks.

When we found a group of Bottlenose dolphins on the 09.06 trip at 13:00, a research boat had already reached it. Therefore we followed with an abundant distance when we noticed two blows in a distance of 1, 5 miles in the direction of west. As we can’t drive against the direction of traffic of the other boats just like that anymore since Tanger Traffic controls the southern part of the Strait of Gibraltar, we decided to stay quiet and not to spread any hectic. From Katharina I knew that she had seen the day before that it was Mondrino, a female with her two calves. When we came near the research boat we told to the crew that we just had seen two sperm whales. Sperm whales use to dive about 40 minutes in the Strait of Gibraltar, so it was clear that it would take some time until they would reappear.

At 15:30 we found the Bottlenose dolphins again but I knew that the calm wouldn’t last very long because a ship belonging to the competition was about to follow us. In addition to that the research boat which was looking for the sperm whales of which I had told during the foregoing trip was also present. We followed the Bottlenose dolphins at a distance of 100 meters. This was more than necessary as I wanted to give them some peace after having been accompanied for hours by the research boat. And again we saw blows on our western side, three sperm whales. Mondrino was lying in the water near her calves and was taking a rest after the dive. Further in the west the boat of the competition approached. They hadn´t discovered the sperm whales yet, nor had the researcher. This time the sperm whales were nearer but even then we decided not to draw our attention on them but to follow the Bottlenose dolphins which were swimming without showing signs of stress towards the sperm whales.

Mondrino taucht ab

Mondrino dives

When the other whale watching boat approached, Mondrino and her calves dove away and stayed long enough under water to reappear behind the boat. But this way they appeared between the whale watchers and the researchers. Short time after they were discovered and according to the black fume rising from the competition´s boat I could imagine the hectic which was spread. The research boat was also at high speed. It seemed that the whales wanted to stay on the surface of the water and tried to swim to the west, but they got wedged-in by the two boats. They started diving again while we were going on open-circuited. I was aware that according to the prevailing whale watching law (since 2007) at most two boats at the same time are allowed to stay near the whales, so I was prepared to stop the propeller at any time in case we came too close to the concern. While Mondrino reappeared near the two boats, the two calves appeared on our right side near the Bottlenose dolphins, assumedly because they noticed them to be less stressed as we kept enough distance. We stopped the propeller and unfortunately came to stay almost between Mondrino and her two babies. But even then she stayed near the other boats but turned herself in our direction and was waiting until her calves had recovered enough to dive in a distance of 150 meters away from us.

Mondrino an der Wasseroberfläche

Mondrino at the surface

Instead of diving herself she did something surprising for all of us. She came in our direction showing us her head again and again until she was just a few meters away from our boat.

Mondrino zeigt ihren Kopf

Mondrino showing her head

Mondrino neben dem Boot

Mondrino beside the ship

After having spent some time there, she sank below our boat, turned herself on her side and looked up, and then she went near her calves. All of us were so much touched emotionally that we stayed quiet at the same place for 10 minutes and let the Bottlenose dolphins which had played with the calves go on their way. Then a smaller group of Bottlenose dolphins came from the east, awakening us from our meditative state.

The next day we were less lucky because the competition had encircled three grown sperm whales with their two boats and didn’t allow us any room, although we had been invited by radio contact of them before. It would have been enough if they had gone for 5 minutes to a distance of 500 meters away from there, but the captains certainly hadn’t read the regulations. Since then we haven´t spotted any sperm whales.

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