The Giants of the Sea… Almost Touchable!

by firmm Team

Text: Sonja Van Den Bossche, photos: firmm

It looked like May 9th, 2017 was going to be a nice day in Tarifa: the sun was already shining in the morning and there was no breeze. I was the guide on the firmm-boat at 11 a.m. In the meantime spotting common, striped and bottlenose dolphins and pilot and sperm whales had become routine. And for a few days I had been craving more. Whenever I come to firmm as a volunteer for a couple of weeks, I make a ‘queen trip’ and just when I was wondering when this sublime moment would come this year, this happened…

The firmm Vision had only just sailed out of the harbour, when we heard Katharina announce through loudspeakers: ‘We saw a sperm whale blow!’ Antonio, the captain, hurried to it and when we were – according to the rules for respectful whale watching – at a safe distance from the sperm whale, we saw it lying stretched out on the water surface like a floating tree trunk longer than the firmm-boat. But its rest was constantly disturbed by seagulls, which didn’t want to do anything else but to land on top of it.

Sperm whale with bird Birds trying to land 

However, they didn’t reckon with the whale, because it frequently tried to chase away the intrusive attackers by bending its back with the eye-catching, low hump. Every time we had the feeling that it would soon submerge, but it didn’t come that far for the time being. It had not yet taken in enough oxygen for its next long, deep dive and was even floating toward us in the waves, little by little and of its own free will.

Tension rose… Katharina assumed that it was Observador, one of firmm’s animals for adoption, and was continuously commenting on the spectacle, which actually only lasted for some seconds: ‘Observador is watching us. He’s observing. And I will continue to talk now, because he’s also listening. Observador is the only one that is coming closer and closer to the boat. He’s really curious. And I think he will dive down next to the boat… Y-e-a-h, it could be that he’s going down now… ¡Qué bonito! (=How beautiful!)’ And her words became reality right away. When the sperm whale was only a few yards away from the boat, we could clearly distinguish its large blowhole on the left side of its huge head.

Large blowhole Close up 

Shortly after, it dived down on the right side of the boat, getting lots of ‘wow!’, and showed us its enormous fluke to say goodbye. We could almost touch this giant of the sea! Unforgettable!… ‘W-a-h-n-s-i-n-n!’ (=Madness!) I still heard one of my fellow passengers on board say passionately. And since the sperm whales are my favourite animals, of course, I was also emotionally overwhelmed with everything that had happened: I got tears in my eyes and felt my heart beating. The adrenalin rush for which I had been waiting so long!

Observador diving down 

After Observador had disappeared, the sea looked empty. But not yet fully recovered emotionally, we were all taken along by the firmm-crew to search for other residents in the Strait of Gibraltar and they didn’t keep us waiting a long time: a large pod of bottlenose dolphins approached us. The dolphins were cleaving slowly and elegantly through the water alongside the boat, as if they enjoyed each stroke with their breast fins and every sea wave around them. They were swimming abreast, in pairs or in small groups of 3-5 animals. Some even ventured to make a small jump!

Group of bottlenose dolphins  

We had already spent a long time with the bottlenose dolphins, when the firmm Vision turned around to sail back to its home port. Katharina bade farewell to her guests in her usual style: ‘We’ll shortly enter the harbour of Tarifa. We’ve seen two species of marine mammals: a sperm whale and bottlenose dolphins.’ And everyone could be very happy with this and grateful to firmm!

Go back