The surprise visit
by firmm Team
The first orcas in front of Tarifa
Text: Laura Krampe; photos: firmm
8:00 in the morning: Katharina receives a call. While I’m still sleeping happily, Katharina already gets information about something really special that is likely to occur today. 11:00 a.m.: A second call – made by the cousin of our „marinero“Pedro. He’s a fisherman and at the moment far out in the direction of the Atlantic Ocean. The day seems to get interesting. Katharina hopes to be able to show the guests something really rare at this time of the season.
I am not suspecting anything while I’m doing the „charla“, the information talk the tourists get before going on board to learn more about the foundation, the Strait of Gibraltar and the marine mammals that live here. In this very moment I am presenting the orcas: I have to admit that I always feel pity when I see the glance disappear on the guest’s faces, when I tell them that the orcas are just coming here in July and August.
Then we go on board together. The weather is fantastic. The calm and the comfortable temperature promise a magnificent tour like we also had the days before. But how exquisite the trip should become, was yet to be seen… 12:00 p.m.: Our boat is leaving the harbour of Tarifa. Once again Katharina gets a call, this time from a fisherman far away from Tarifa. It’s the last confirmation. Without a moment’s hesitation, she instructs our captain Diego to hurry now.
The water is beautiful today. I’m looking down on the surface passing by. The light is refracted in thousands shades of turquois and the water is smooth as glass and crystal clear. Thanks to the good visibility we have a perfect view of the “Jebel Musa”, the 830 meters high mountain on the northern headland of Morocco. Once again I realize that we’re just 14 km away from Africa. A really special geographical location.
After a while I start asking myself why we’re still moving that fast. Normally at this time we would slow down to look for the animals? Some minutes later we finally decelerate. As I’m standing with my back to the bow to keep an eye on our guests, I’m not aware of our actual position, but the clicking speakers announce Katharina’s explanation. With a joyful voice she declares: “We just arrived and have a little surprise for you! They are here: the orcas!
Immediately a cry of joy spreads over the boat. I don’t believe my ears either and doubtfully take a glance out of the window. Orcas in this season? That’s impossible?! When I look out of the window I’m surprised by the splendid view. The visibility is superb and in front of us lies the Moroccan coast. The water sparkles and we’re surrounded by small fishing boats that float on the calm water. In the middle of this scenery suddenly a huge dorsal fin appears, followed by a black and white body. Without any doubt, it’s definitely an orca.
It’s a male and just after a short time we also spot a female with a young. Absolut enthusiasm spreads on the boat. You can hear the clicks of the cameras and many “ooooohs” and “aaaaahs”.
From time to time these wonderful animals come up before they disappear for some minutes. Moments of suspense followed by moments of delight. Nobody had expected something like this! Under the curious eyes of the tourists the family moves between the small boats.
We could watch them for hours coming up and down while the water rolls off their black and white bodies. Katharina then tells us that it looks as if the family had organised some food. She can’t tell if it is a tuna fish or something smaller. The fishermen inform Katharina that the orcas now not only bite the tuna directly from their lines, but also smaller fish. An unusual behaviour as they normally just come here to hunt the tuna fish in July and August. As if the appearance of the orcas hadn’t been already a spectacle for itself, we even know the big male that’s moving in front of us: It’s Camorro, one of the animals available for adoption.
Why the orcas came here so early is still unclear. Only once, namely on the 07th of April 2004 Orcas have been spotted at the beginning of the season so close to Tarifa. From Pedro we know that a group of orcas from Barbate, led by Bartolo, another well-known male, has been sighted further west in the Atlantic.
I look into the faces of our guests and I’m pleased to see blissfully happy smiles. We also have a special situation on board: Our youngest passenger is only 9 months old, whereas the oldest counts 87 years. It impresses how the enthusiasm of seeing the animals in the wild affects all people, no matter what generation and age.
Although it just seemed to be some minutes, it’s time to go back to Tarifa. We’ve come a long way – and it was absolutely worth it. Everything fitted perfectly: The hints of Pedros family, the weather and another aspect that should not be underestimated: low tide. Without it the trip so far out would have been much more difficult. So it was definitely a top class boat trip that won’t be forgotten neither by us nor the guests.
Also the second boat trip that day turns out to be a wonderful trip. Thanks to calm and crystal clear water we have perfect views of the pilot whales and bottlenose dolphins that are coming close to our boat. Again and again they approach the boat, swim close by or dive underneath. Another positive effect of the calm is furthermore that the noise level on board is absorbed. So we share almost intimate moments with the animals in absolute quiet. We hear them communicate under water, are splashed wet from a bottlenose dolphin and welcome a newly born pilot whale. On our way from and back to the harbour we often see some dorsal fins passing by – belonging to the Mola Molas, also called sunfish: they seem to appreciate the sun as much as we do. All the staff and volunteers happily exchange stories after these great sightings.
It was an absolute top class day – not only for the guests but also for us – we will all remember it forever.