The 11th meeting of firmm

by firmm Team

Text / photos: Yvonne Zollinger, Journalist

Review: A season with difficulties in the beginning

The 11th meeting of firmm took place January 24th in Aarau (Switzerland). The familiar circle of friends around Katharina Heyer and her project has been growing and the annual event therefore developed into a very special occasion. Around 300 visitors filled the house of culture and congress in Aarau. A lot of them were familiar with the foundation firmm for several reasons: Some because they have spent their holidays in Tarifa, others because they have worked there as volunteers or they have worked for firmm in other ways. Every year new people who are interested in the work of our foundation join the group of already familiar faces.

firmmKatharina introduced the evening with a review of the 11th firmm-season, which was one of the most difficult seasons she has experienced in Tarifa. Until August, one problem was followed by the next: Starting with never-ending construction work right in front of the firmm-office during the peak season, followed by absurd regulations concerning the labelling of the new bar at the harbour and at last trouble with the inspection papers of the new boat.

Bolonia Joern-und-MaxBut apart from these problems, there were also a lot of nice experiences during this season. One of these were the visits to the Spanish schools of Bolonia and Tahivilla. Here the marine biologist Jörn gave lectures on the Whales and Dolphins which live in the Straits of Gibraltar. In the previous year a Fin whale had stranded in Bolonia. The students had a lot of questions, and after the lecture they wanted to take a boat trip to visit the sea mammals.
Every week Katharina gave lectures in the Aldiana hotels.
Right before the whale-watching trips presentations for the passengers are held in which information about the foundation, the Straits of Gibraltar, Whales and Dolphins was given. In 2008 about 1500 to 1600 presentations in four different languages were given by the volunteers.

In the 11th firmm season, 580 trips were done. These were about 100 whale-watching trips more than in the year before. Unfortunately, 130 of the 580 trips had to be handed over to competitors because of the late arrival of the new boat.

Although it was only possible to go on the whale-watching trips with the small boat, there were enough sightings of animals. In comparison to the previous year the sightings of the pilot whales especially were more frequent. Besides all the disturbing factors, Katharina explained, it seems as if all marine mammals have a good life in the Straits of Gibraltar. Moreover the main reason for the successful sightings is that the foundation has sufficient knowledge about the population dynamics of the mammals. The numbers among the Bottlenose Dolphins has risen as well. However the sightings of the Striped Dolphins and Common Dolphins decreased. This is a critical development because the Common Dolphin is on the list of endangered species and its existence is threatened.

In 2008 the new harbour "Tanger-Med" was built. This harbour is the biggest in Africa. It is Katharina's fear that the number of animals which will be affected by the increased number of ships and boats will escalate.

Luckily the new boat arrived in Tarifa on the 6th of August. After a few problems which were caused because of missing papers causing a few days delays, the boat was christened "firmm Spirit". It had to be in the Mol to be ready for the first trip which took place on the 14th of August. From this day on everything was successful and Katharina mentioned in her review that since then the tide has turned. The firmm Spirit has a lot of advantages which are necessary for good whale-watching trips: It has space for 55 passengers, a toilet and it is possible to sit in a dry area. For the crew it is possible now to keep their eyes out for marine mammals above the passengers by standing on a lookout on top of the boat.

In the end of her review Katharina presented the team of the 11th season in Tarifa and expressed her gratitude to all members of her staff.


firmm 1Following Katharina's presentation the biologist Prof. Patricia Holm of the University of Basel gave an accounting of contributions, which the foundation firmm spends on education. "Only what people know they will be able to love and protect", and this motto applies to this endeavour. Regarding this aspect, the annual journey of students in Tarifa is arranged. They do not only benefit from the infrastructure, which the foundation with the lecture rooms (auditorium), the boat trips etc. offer, but also by expressing their knowledge and experiences about the marine mammals which the foundation collected during eleven years of work in Tarifa. Together with Prof. David Senn and Prof. Patricia Holm, 30 biology Students came to Tarifa in order to study the marine mammals and their surroundings in the Straits of Gibraltar.


firmm 2Daniele Grieco and his film crew stayed in Tarifa for a longer period. The shooting of the documentary film about firmm and the Wales and Dolphins who live in the Strait of Gibraltar is finished. As a point of culmination the visitors of the 11th firmm meeting could see the movie in an exclusive preview. As soon as the movie released in the German cinemas in early summer we will distribute further information about the title, the contents of the film and about the filming.

The Dolphin Resort in Morocco

For a long time Katharina had been eyeing a small bay, including a hotel and a harbour of a one-time smuggler, in Morocco, to build her Dolphin Resort. Since she discovered this site she has had to wait for the contract of lease and for the public authorities. The never-ending waiting has finally come to an end because she found an American group of companies and a Canadian investor, Michael Noble. The hotel with the harbour will be remodelled into a modern Marine Centre, not only granting asylum to elderly Dolphins which lived in aquariums in Europe, but also to marine animals which suffer injuries by ships. There they will get professional medical attendance.

The plans for the Centre have progressed so that it can be expected that the construction work will start next summer. With the help of graphic drawings Katharina showed what this project should look like. This project combines practical needs with economic considerations, the help necessary for the Dolphins with the needs of the tourists. Besides the facilities available to the researchers, veterinarians and the staff of the Marine Centre, big areas for the visitors will be available. The aim is also for the visitors to get the chance to observe the Dolphins without disturbing them.

Overview high res

With the harbour and canal system located in the bay, the Dolphins will have a living area of 5150 square meters.

Plot kids poolAmong a restaurant, several show rooms and an underwater observatory, there will be a family-friendly holiday resort and a hotel for the tourists.

Two people will be taking care of the Dolphins:

Christina0001Dr. Christina Schnug, German veterinarian and whale researcher and

V2Vladas Martirosa , physicist and researcher from Lithuania. Both support the long-term protection of the marine mammals.

firmm 3Samuel Notz, the youngest member of the firmm foundation council, translated the video message of Vladas Martirosa, who could not be present at the meeting because of a foot injury.

As the evening drew to a close, Katharina expressed her gratitude to all volunteers for their dedicated support of the foundation, making it possible for firmm to accomplish the necessary work. Beginning with thanking all those who were more-or-less in the "back seat" , for example those responsible for the flyers, internet presence, the newsletter or promotion material, then on to various donors and foundation sponsors up to the hardworking helpers at the 11th firmm-meeting.

firmm 4firmm 5

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