Introduction to our research

How can we combine research work and whale watching? Besides being here to identify and reduce the threats to marine mammals in the Strait of Gibraltar, we also want to warm people's hearts for these animals by offering whale-watching trips. Managing the balancing act between the two quite different goals, we have not only been raising people's awareness of environmental issues but we have also actively contributed to the protection of the animals.

Begleitung durch wissenschaftliches Team

The data acquisition at firmm takes place during the Whale-Watching trips with our guests. Thereby we record relevant data of all sightings and observe the behaviour of the animals. So we can combine whale-watching and research and reduce the disturbance of the animals to a minimum. From the sheer amount of data, trends and correlations can be derived that are not immediately obvious:

  • We document injuries. This helps to clarify the causes, which in future will again benefit the protection of whales.
  • We record the sightings of rarely detected species. This allows to draw conclusions about biological diversity in the past.
  • We photograph special characteristics of individual animals (photo identification). In this way we can study group membership.

Communication of our findings

At the conference of the European Cetacean Society 2007 we presented our findings on Pilot Whales and Fin Whales as Posters:

  • Long-finned pilot whales in the Strait of Gibraltar (Michael Casanova, Matthias Tobler)
  • Fin Whales of Gibraltar (Jörn Selling)

The results of the Fin Whale statistics of firmm also flowed into a textbook about the whales off Gibraltar. This textbook was the result of a workshop held in Algeciras in November 2008 and bears the title:

  • Manual Didáctico: Para educadores ambientales especialistas en cetáceos del litoral del campo de Gibraltar.

At the conference of the ECS in Cádiz in March 2011 firmm presented the relationship of the Orcas to Pilot Whales and fishermen in the Strait of Gibraltar with a poster:

  • Evolution of a unique and ambiguous relationship between Orcas, Pilot Whales and Tuna-fishermen in the Strait of Gibraltar (firmm-education).

A ferry line across the Pilot Whale area could be prevented with help of our data.

Thanks to the data of our long-term research we succeeded in 2011 in preventing a planned new ferry line from Tarifa to the new port of Tangier MED, which originally should ran across the Pilot Whale area.

At Planet Whale's "Whale Fest" in Brighton in October 2012, we wrote a report on the characteristics that an "ideal" whale watch ship should have.

Our work on injuries has been heard at the IWC.

Based on the many photos of injured or ill dolphins and whales, firmm's marine biologist wrote the following report in 2015:

  • Preliminary Assessment of Epidermal Conditions, Lesions and Malformations in Cetaceans of the Strait of Gibraltar.

This report was presented in 2016 by our foundation board member Prof. Dr. Patricia Holm (University of Basel) to the scientific committee of the IWC. You can find a German summary under the subject Injuries.

Cooperation with firmm

Our database can be evaluated according to various criteria. If you are interested in a cooperation and evaluation of our data for your scientific work, please contact us.

Our research

On the following pages you can read what we have learned about the whales and dolphins of the Strait from our yearly observations and how the situation is evolving for the animals in this area.

Data collection

How does the data collection at firmm work and what did we find out about the animals with our data and photo identification?

Information about data collection


What influence do shipping, fishing and pollution have on the health of marine mammals? We examine possible reasons for health restraints.

To the report on injuries

Pilot Whales

How have the numbers of Pilot Whales developed over the years and to what stress are the animals in the Strait exposed?

To the report on Pilot Whales

Sperm Whales

Why are there good and bad Sperm Whale years? Does the wind have an influence on this or does the food supply in the Strait fluctuate?

To the report on Sperm Whales

Bottlenose Dolphins

Are Bottlenose Dolphins affected by the morbilli virus in a similar way as Pilot Whales, or why is the average group size constantly decreasing?

To the Bottlenose Dolphins report


Will the Orcas still be able to catch enough tuna? What was the effect of the Orcas Protection Act? What are the threats of sport fishing?

To the report on Orcas

Fin Whales

Where do the Fin Whales migrate after leaving the Strait? Could some animals belong to the population that used to live off Gibraltar?

To the report on Fin Whales

Common Dolphins

How vulnerable is the population of Common Dolphins in the Strait of Gibraltar? Could coastal protection help save the animals?

To the report on Common Dolphins

Striped Dolphins

What is the relationship between Striped Dolphins and tuna fish in the Strait? How can the animals be better protected from big game fishermen?

To the report on Striped Dolphins

Other sightings

What other interesting animals have we seen? What encounters have we had with whales that are rare in this area?

To the report on other sightings