The Saison 2017 – a retrospective

by Jörn Selling

Photos: Katharina Heyer, Jörn Selling, Eduardo Montano Peralta et Miguel López Collantes.

In the season of 2017 Tarifa has once again shown its rough side. There were many days with the often strong "Levante" wind.Therefore we occasionally had to drive in the bay of Gibraltar, where despite the increasing environmental problems there are still some common dolphins. Striped dolphins and bottlenose dolphins could also be observed there. Most of the "best of" photos shown here were taken in front of Tarifa, in the Strait of Gibraltar.

Island of Tarifa in the evening mist. Sailing ship comes from the port of Tarifa.  Transport of rotor blades for wind generators. Seems to be a floating dock. Mighty Platform. Destroyer Aircraft carrier "77", the same model series as the "75" of the last season. Sport fishermen inspect us sometimes maliciously, sometimes suspiciously. Fisherman drags caught tuna into the harbour Greenpeace chugs towards the Mediterranean Sea. When fog hits us at sea. Swordfish. Caretta caretta. Only one seagull finds room on the radar. 

Common Dolphins

Since they have become "uncommon" in the Mediterranean, we have seen them occasionally in small groups or as part of schools of striped dolphins.

Mother with young. Small group. Orange algae growth. Pink coloured belly because of increased blood circulation due to physical exertion. "Standing on the flukes" is a popular trick.. Surfing our stern wave. 

Striped Dolphins

Striped dolphins sometimes still move through the Strait of Gibraltar in large schools, where there is always a lot to see.

Surfing and jumping belong to the life of dolphins. One male, the mammary folds are missing. The animal on the right has no dorsal fin. Larger groups let the sea boil. Mothers with calves. 

Bottlenose Dolphins

Bottlenose dolphins are the most acrobatic of the dolphin family. They're in a good mood, especially in the spring. Sometimes they perform their show close to the ship. They're watching us as well.

Perfectly lined up. Mums With young one; on this calf you can still see the birth lines. Tailslapping, also on the back. Barnacles stick to the fluke. Loly, an old acquaintance with possible fungal infestation of the dorsal fin. The mouth of the second bottlenose dolphin is noticeably discoloured and swollen, unfortunately not a rare picture off Gibraltar.             Finally he spits water.      

Pilot Whales

Pilot whales usually swim west to compensate for the constant Atlantic current into the Mediterranean.At high tide they can relax because the current decreases, then they get a little closer to our ship.Pilot whales suffer the most from sport fishermen.

Early in the morning they usually rest. They like best to lie close together. Bottlenose dolphins are tolerated. Mother and young animal. The second animal from the left is Zackzack. She's probably had her dorsal fin cut off by sport fishermen. Scar on her left side. In the course of the season, her right side began to disintegrate. towards the end also her left side. Even if whales often live on for years after the accident, their immune system seems weakened. A transmitter was stabbed in the dorsal fin of this one, as the scars show. This little thing is still wrinkled, because it was still in the womb a short time ago. This curious calf, well recognizable by its points on the upper jaw, couldn't get enough of our ship and kept coming back…  ...until our ship began to reflect on his forehead.  Here you can even see the lettering of "firmm". But also adult pilot whales use the technique of "spyhopping" to get an idea of the situation above water. Jumping and splashing around, that's what all dolphins do, which include pilot whales.  


The orcas travel in small groups, coming to the Strait of Gibraltar in summer to hunt tuna or to get their share from the fishermen.

One of the three full-grown bulls of this season, with Tarifa in the background and accompanied by a female. The second bull of the season was Camorro here with female and tuna swim bladder. The third male in the bunch. Lucía with her new calf. Her last one she lost together with one of her flippers. The fishermen keep an eye on the orcas, so that, no tuna is taken from their line. On the buoy hangs a poor tuna, which is going to be pulled out later. Female with prey. What remains is the swim bladder, which attracts some seagulls. Two share the prey. Moroccan fishermen surf the wave, as do the orcas. After the meal it is time to play, which dolphins, to which the orcas belong, do often and with pleasure<span>.</span>     Lucía with her calf, which shows joy in life. Good to see, that they both were in good health. Adults also like tailslapping.  Lucías fluke. Also popular among dolphins<span>:</span> the headstand<span>.</span>   Attempts are made here to shoot close-ups of the orcas under water. Occasionally they are near the boat.  A barnacle sticks to the dorsal fin. Behind the dorsal fin one can see the markings left by the fishing lines! Lucía with calf and four common dolphins. When they've had enough or the fishermen are gone, they swim back towards the Atlantic.  

Sperm Whales

2017 was a good sperm whale year. Especially spectacular: there was even a group of more than 10 animals, accompanied by pilot whales, bottlenose dolphins and sea birds.

Sperm whale off Tarifa and one in front of Moses Mountain (Yebel Musa). When ships come too close,  it's time to submerge. This animal is emaciated, or got hit on the skull like this one. This one has a conspicuous back. This one could be pregnant. Good to see: the wrinkly skin. And the visitors' favourite motive: when they submerge. The fluke is also used for identification. Sometimes before the dive they relieve themselves. Shedding of the skin. Abrasion of a piece of skin. Seabirds perceive sperm whales as a landing site, which they rarely like.   Bottlenose dolphins and pilot whales also like to stop by, especially when so many are gathering. Here the lower jaw is visible, which is rare. Half of a fluke.  That was the biggest get-together since "firmm" exists.  


The fin whales are the rarest and often travel alone or in pairs, exceptionally up to five. In summer they move out into the Atlantic.Almost all are heavily infested with parasitic blood-sucking copepods (crustaceans).

Like the ferry from Tarifa to Tangier,towards the Atlantic. Severe parasitic infestation. The tip of the mouth is almost never visible when they are moving; unless they jump. 

We wish everyone a good season 2018, both for the whales and their observers!

Long live the summer! 

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