The season 2020 has ended

The summer holidays are over and Tarifa's streets have been empty since the beginning of September. We have therefore also closed down for this year.

Despite the short season we had many special sightings. We hope that the situation will become normal by the next season and can't wait to take you out to see the whales again from the 26th of March 2021 on.

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

What a sperm whale day!!

by firmm Team

Text: Jörn Selling, Katharina Heyer; pictures: firmm

Although Levante was present on May 29th, four boat trips were planned. From one trip to the next we could not be sure that next boat trip would take place, as the Levante wind was blowing through the Strait of Gibraltar.

Jörn was on the morning trips and Katharina on those in the afternoon.

Tuesday 29th of May / Jörn

10 o’clock trip: the wind increased and the Sea was getting rougher and rougher. Because of the sighting of sperm whales the previous days we were hoping that they would still be there. Once we had arrived with the pilot we thus still tried to make out the blow of the whales in the mist coming from the Mediterranean.

All of a sudden a sperm whale surfaced just a mile west of us. We had to approach very slowly because going west is not allowed in the southern cargo ship route. When we arrived the young animal dove down already but we were rewarded anyways because close to us “Lunares” a huge grown male sperm whale appeared. We could recognize him by the white spot he has in front of his dorsal fin. After a couple of minutes he dove majestically.

12 o’clock trip: When we arrived in the region of the whales there was already the ship of the competition present and as luck would have one of the two young sperm whales emerged. We slowly went in their direction and just saw them dive down. It did not look like the whale was going to hunt. Rather that it wanted to stay on the surface for a bit longer but the competition’s boat did not allow it. Sperm whales – at least in the Strait of Gibraltar – are rather suspicious of boats and if one wants to observe them socializing on the surface the minimum distance to be kept is 100 metres. It is best to stop the ship’s propeller and not touch it again. So that when the boat lies laterally to the wind the sperm whale is also laterally to the boat. Then it is also not necessary anymore to manoeuvre. As soon as the sperm whale hears the boat’s propeller starting and additionally accelerating it gets very uneasy and restless.

Exactly that was the case with the competition’s boat. A second young sperm whale emerged, maybe even the same. And again it was chased by the boat. We stayed where we were as I was explaining the situation to the guests. Only as the second whale dove down the competition departed towards the east. My assumption proved to be right because after a while the sperm whale came up again to spend some more time at the surface. And then we witnessed something special: bottlenose dolphins joined the sperm whale and were jumping around it. All of a sudden, as if to show off to the dolphins the sperm whale jumped straight out of the water twice and landed with a big splash in the water again. A great moment that one can only enjoy when treating the animals with respect by leaving them in peace and giving them their space needed. Unfortunately I did not have my camera…

Tuesday 29th of May / Katharina

15 o’clock trip: unbelievable that on the previous two trips sperm whales had been spotted, so we were excited to go on the afternoon trip. With the high Levante waves, navigating as we wanted to was next to impossible so we had to just go with the waves. We were relieved and pleased when we saw a big group of 30 bottlenose dolphins. With the strong winds and current we were drifted west with them. Finally we had to say goodbye to them however in order to search for the pilot whales. After a long search with little luck, we were awarded to observe 2 sperm whales surrounded by a big group of pilot whales that were relaxing on the surface of the water between the waves…

Ruhender Pottwal

Pottwale von Grindwalen umringt

One of the sperm whales was half asleep, looking up and observing its surroundings on his side above the water. Eduardo gave him a name immediately: Fernando!!! (Our sailor). Because he also likes to sep a lot!

Pottwal legt sich schlafen Kopf des schlafenden Pottwal

The other one was playing with the curious pilot whales, turning around his own axis occasionally which was very unusual behaviour!

Pottwal dreht sich

Pottwal spielt mit Grindwalen

Eventually it approached the boat, always surrounded by the pilot whales!

kommen immer nächer

Then, very relaxed, both dove into the sea between the groups of pilot whales.

Pottwal vor dem Abtauchen

Pottwal taucht ab

17 o’clock trip: the expectations from the guests grew when they heard from the previous boat guests about the sperm whale sightings. Soon we found the two sperm whales again but this time a bit further to the west. They were still surrounded by the big group of pilot whales but this time big bottlenose dolphins were taking part as well.

Umzingelt von Grindwalen

This time, the bigger one of the two sperm whales came very close to the boat. It seemed like it wanted to socialize with us and then, after a long time on the surface, dove with great majesty followed by the other one into the deep sea.

Abtauchender Pottwal Pottwalfluke

Thereupon the young pilot whales caught interest in our boat and came close. Surrounded by all these little babies; it was for sure a fun boat trip.

Even with all these young animals playing, Diego, our boat captain shouted out loud: “A dove! A dove!”. Where did Diego see a dove? Far away in the sky? A totally exhausted dove had sat itself right next to Diego's head on the boat deck next to the open window.

Una Paloma!

Then, when it seemed to be better, the dove flew off just to be back again after a while on the boat but this time it stayed and was holding on strongly next to the window. As I had to keep on looking for the pilot whales I lost sight of the bird. Fernando had observed that the animal had been in the water for a long time and had been a victim of the big seagulls that had attacked the animal three times already.

I did not expect a good end for the poor dove but Diego decided together with Fernando and Eduardo to get the net and save the animal. As I was speaking through the microphone informing everyone on the boat that we would put a pause on the pilot whale watch for a “dove rescue” about six big seagulls were ready to attack the dove flying from high above. Fortunately Eduardo caught the dove just in time with the net saving it! A loud noise of joy came out from the crowd watching the scene and Eduardo was pleased and took the bird close to his heart!

Eduardo mit der Taube

This was the end of an amazingly joyful trip!

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