Three sisters from Switzerland in Tarifa
Text and pictures: Marianne, Silvia and Elsbeth
We have known Katharina Heyer for at least 40 years. After having lost contact 20 years ago, we coincidentally “found” her again through a documentary (Die Walfrau von Gibraltar) on Swiss television.
Curious about why a woman like Katharina would give up the comfortable life in Switzerland in exchange for a life dedicated to the protection and research of whales and dolphins in the Straits of Gibraltar, we spontaneously decided to book an observation course at firmm.
On August 27. 2011, we arrived in Tarifa and were immediately charmed by the small, picturesque town. During a round trip on Sunday with Katharina, we got to know Tarifa a little better and learned how to get around in the area.
On Monday August 29. 2011 we punctually arrived at the harbor, full of excitement and anticipation for our first trip on the boat. Sadly, our tour would have to wait, as we were greeted at the harbor with an impenetrable wall of mist. As a substitute, we were allowed to take part in Katharina Heyer´s and biologist Jörn Selling”s very interesting and informative lectures where we gained a lot of valuable knowledge about whales and dolphins.
At 17.00 the mist finally cleared, allowing us to finally enjoy our first trip. Already on the first day of our observation course we had the privilege of having beautiful sightings of pilot whales and striped dolphins.
The good weather accompanied us from Monday afternoon until Friday noon and made it possible for us to go on two trips per day on the beautiful boat “Spirit”, experiencing several moving and unforgettable moments with these animals. Every day we were surprised anew by the diversity of dolphins and whales that are native in the Strait of Gibraltar. Not a single day of this week passed without having had multiple sightings.
Again and again, the dolphin and pilot whale mothers showed us their young which we of course greatly enjoyed.
Then came September 1. 2011, a truly extraordinary day for us. A lucky day which in our opinion probably could not be topped. That’s what we thought at the time, at least, though we would later be taught better.
On this fantastic day we had an encounter with a finwhale. Probably the largest whale that can be admired in the Strait of Gibraltar, this was definitely the largest we’d seen up to now. An incredible feeling of amazement and admiration overcame us. We had definitely not expected this kind of luck.
Every day we were blessed with wonderful encounters with both whales and dolphins. Bottlenose dolphins, striped dolphins, common dolphins, pilot whales and a finwhale were among the animals we’d seen; we really couldn’t ask for more.
Next to these many sightings we received plenty of information on the lifestyle of these animals. We could observe how playfully and happily they go about their life in nature with our own eyes. We would definitely never consider visiting a dolphinarium again, after we learned from Katharina just how many animals have to die before a single one of them could be admired in such a park. We could guess at how unhappy they must be in captivity after we saw their behaviour in the wide open Ocean.
Friday afternoon, the last scheduled day of our course, a thunderstorm passed over Tarifa and we regrettably couldn’t go on a trip. In exchange, we were allowed to go on a two-hour trip on the Spirit on Sunday, September 4. 2011.
That evening we met several other course participants who’d been on the Fly Blue that same Sunday. What they recounted to us caused our hearts to leap with joy. Even though the Orcas, who come to the Strait of Gibraltar because of the fish that swim through it, would normally pass by during August, the so-called “Studis” had an encounter with these beautiful creatures. We could barely believe our luck, as Katharina offered a 3-hour trip to us on Monday, in order to try and find the Orcas. On September 5. 2011 we left the port hoping that we could achieve an encounter with these marvellous whales as well. We had been on the outlook for a long while, but since no fishing boats were out at sea we had almost lost hope. Then, suddenly, Eduardo spoted the first Orcas we’d been searching for in the distance. They came closer, allowing us to admire whole families of them. The emotion that we felt during this encounter was simply indescribable.
With this extraordinary day, our observation course with the firmm foundation ended. We stayed in Tarifa for a few more days, going on several excursions in the beautiful area.
Many places on the planet claim to have the most beautiful sunset. The three of us, though, are certain that the sunsets in Tarifa belong to the most beautiful possible.
Thank you very much, Katharina, for the unforgettable days we had the privilege of spending in the observation course of the firmm foundation. It’s great to know that people like you and your team exist, who with great joy and passion are ready to fight for the protection and research of endangered whales and dolphins.
Our wish for you is that your dream-project, the „Dolphin Sanctuary Ras Laflouka“ in Morocco, will be realized within due time.
This was definitely not our last visit to Tarifa and to a course of firmm!!
Marianne, Silvia and Elsbeth