Here we go again!

From July 1st on we will sail out again to the whales and dolphins. We are looking forward to welcoming you soon and wish you already now a relaxing holiday. You will find information about the necessary hygiene and safety measures under observation tours.

See you soon in Tarifa, Katharina Heyer and the firmm team

A Heavenly Tour

by Sonja Van Den Bossche

Photos: firmm

During 7 boat trips now I had only encountered bottlenose dolphins and pilot whales. And I was gradually getting kind of disappointed. Where had all the sperm whales gone? They were still here the week before. Isn’t spring the season, in which they’re present more frequently in the Strait of Gibraltar? Yet, I knew that firmm wouldn’t be firmm, if Eduardo, the designated marine animal spotter on board, didn’t find them one day or another. And indeed, my wishful thinking came true…

On June 14th, 2018, it was completely windstill in Tarifa, perfect weather conditions for firmm to organize four trips. The last trip of the day even surpassed my own expectations, because the calm waters of the Strait of Gibraltar treated the firmm-guests to a unique spectacle: a huge sperm whale was surrounded by a large group of bottlenose dolphins and pilot whales. And the following paragraphs and snapshots will reveal that there were no limits at all!

The firmm Vision left the port of Tarifa with Swiss punctuality at 16:30 p.m. And when it had been sailing at the same speed for almost half an hour, it was accelerating. Through several years’ experience on boat trips with firmm, my intuition told me that a sperm whale must be somewhere around. A little bit later, my assumption was confirmed by Katharina’s voice through the microphones: ‘Please, hold on. We’re going faster now. We’ve seen a sperm whale blow. Far away. At 11 o’clock.’ Antonio, the captain, didn’t miss his goal: this time firmm managed to arrive promptly and everyone, the crew and the passengers, could watch the whale diving.

Then Antonio put the boat into gear again to go slowly forward and soon we came upon a large group of pilot whales. Two of them were very close to the ship, one of them being an expert in spyhopping. Like a black telescope it was always vertically poking its head out of the water to get a better view of the sea ahead, maybe already feeling something was coming…

‘There’s a sperm whale! Close to the boat… At 1 o’clock,’ I heard Katharina Heyer, the first lady of firmm, announce to us in a surprised tone. Now everyone’s attention was drawn to the spouting sperm whale on the right side of the boat. This massive marine mammal must just have come to the surface after a very long dive of more than an hour, in order to fill its body with oxygen. What happened next happened so fast that I could hardly follow or describe it. And I couldn’t take enough pictures of this overwhelming experience…

Spyhopping pilot whalePilot whale swimming towards the sperm whale

But lightly swinging on the waves, the greatest predator on earth decided to sleep, holding its head – with scars from previous battles with giant squid – above the water and thus showing us its conical teeth on the lower jaw.

Another curious pilot whale was spyhopping towards the toothed whale, whose tailfin was lying just beneath the water surface.

The sperm whale’s headPilot whale spyhopping towards the sperm whale

Soon after, the whale was lying on its right side, with its tailfin sticking up out of the water. Meanwhile, the sperm whale had passed in front of the firmm Vision and moved to the left side. And bottlenose dolphins, also burning with curiosity, joined the pilot whales around it.

Sperm whale lying sidewaysThree species together

As the giant was right next to the boat, I could clearly distinguish his blowhole. For one moment Katharina thought that the sperm whale could have been Observador, but she was not sure, as this was not his style…

After having stayed with us for about ten minutes, the sperm whale suddenly prepared to dive. And it didn’t take long at all to see its fluke, always the highlight moment, evoking complete silence on the boat...

The sperm whale’s blowholeHe’s going nowLarge fluke

When the whale had disappeared, I expected that the much smaller dolphins, who had always been supporting characters in this story till then, would be impressed by its dominance and strength. But I was mistaken; on the contrary, they themselves began to play major roles in it from then on! They swam up to the boat almost solemnly, showing us their newborns (only a few days old) or young ones, spyhopping, tailslapping or playing. So things had come full circle. Moreover, it was a true story, having a prologue and an epilogue.

Pilot whale babySpyhopping towards usTailslappingMother and calf playingMother and newborn

Everywhere there had been movement for an hour, until the time had come to say ‘goodbye’ to the whales and dolphins. On the way back to Tarifa (and for a long time afterwards), I tried to process my emotions. Coincidence or not? Were we in the right place at the right time to be a witness to the revelation of nature’s secrets? Or had these three different species of marine mammals, living in the Strait of Gibraltar, come to us for a purpose? If so, what had all these animals been attempting to show or communicate to us? …

On our arrival in the harbour at 18:30 p.m., these feelings were still strengthened at seeing Katharina’s broad smile. Having known her for a long time, I concluded from it this had been a heavenly trip. I was tired, but satisfied with my day: I had finally seen the ‘Pottis’. And how! In perfect harmony with their surroundings: their fellow inhabitants of the sea, man, the waves and the changing wind direction (from ‘poniente’ to ‘levante’). So rare, it was almost mythical...

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