Perfect Holidays - Whale and Dolphin observation-course

Photo: Pierre & Ria

A week in Tarifa in the high season that seemed even for us, who are fans of the Costa de la Luz already for many years, a rather eccentric idea. But two whale watching excursions with firmm in the spring of 2017 and 2018 had aroused our enthusiasm so much that we definitely wanted to repeat the experience and do it even more intensively this time. Apart from that orcas or killer whales can only be observed during the summer months. That is why we, my wife and I, landed mid-July in Tarifa, the southernmost city of the European continent with its own unique charm.

On the eve of the observation course, we met Katharina and our fellow students. From the start it looked all very good, even though Swiss German is not really part of our language skills.

The introduction and planning of the boat trips went smoothly and the next morning we made our first sea voyage as "Studi's" on the firmm Vision. Shortly after leaving Tarifa harbour, we spotted some fin whales on their way to the Atlantic. The experience of Katharina and her crew took us in no time to groups of pilot whales and dolphins. After a short break to grab an afternoon sandwich, we went out again on a three-hour excursion to the fishing grounds of ​​the Moroccan tuna fishermen.

In the blink of an eye the smell of the Atlantic Ocean brought back memories of a naval career. For me the Atlantic Ocean remains the most beautiful sea in the world.

And indeed, we observed killer whales or orcas, along with Moroccan fishermen and tuna. In a lively hustle and bustle, an adult orca-male caught a tuna and pulled his catch together with the fishing line and the small fishing boat. Several killer whales frolicked around the firmm-Vision. Then the voyage continued east along the coast, where we found dolphins and pilot whales. This first day was already an exciting start of the observation course.

The next day the same schedule was repeated, but first we listened to an introductory talk which is also given to the everyday tourist. It would be a miracle if Edeltraud’s "charla" did not inspire any interest in a career as a biologist!

This time the easterly Levante was blowing and neither the fishermen nor the orcas appeared for the “rendezvous”. Again we sailed in an easterly direction and encountered groups of long-finned pilot whales and dolphins. The return to Tarifa was partly bumpy at a right angle to the wind and swell, but the old sea legs still held out. On Wednesday morning, we went out with a light westerly wind over a mirror-smooth sea, which made finding and observing the sea mammals a lot easier. In two hours’ time we observed a blowing fin whale and groups of pilot whales and bottlenose dolphins. The other students saw with their own eyes, perhaps for the first time, how ocean giants steamed unhindered through the Strait of Gibraltar and tainted the horizon yellow with their sulphur-rich exhaust fumes. And yes, heavy fuel is a lot cheaper than the thinner oil which is only used for manoeuvring.

And so the days flew smoothly by and our small group learned to discover and identify the animals better and faster. On the fourth day there was still no trace of the orcas, but large groups of dolphins and pilot whales roamed around our boat, always enthusiastically noticed by all the passengers. Besides it should be mentioned that all observations are recorded very carefully; in addition to its educational role, the foundation also has a very important scientific goal, something the public might easily miss.

The last day had another five hours sailing time in store and with a force 4 wind we sailed to large groups of pilot whales, dolphins and bottlenose dolphins. In the afternoon we again went out to the Moroccan fishing grounds, but even on Katharina's birthday, the orcas did not show up. On a more easterly heading we met larger groups of different species of dolphins, bottlenose dolphins and pilot whales, often in a lively bustle. They swam close to the boat or frolicked on our bow like the common and striped dolphins, in a colourful mix of different species. The observations followed each other ever so quickly, we were in the middle of a big gathering.

Far too soon we returned to Tarifa, where unfortunately we had to say goodbye to Katharina and her staff, the crew and our companions from this observation week. For us, however, it is only a short-lived farewell to the Atlantic and the Andalusian coast.

But make no mistake, dear reader, this is not a story of the nostalgic memories of a middle-aged seafarer. The firmm foundation has no purpose in any way to nurture the nostalgia of former sailors. No, this is a message of hope, of the proof that one single person can make a very big difference, that we must share our planet much more sensibly and respectfully with the animals and that we too are only fellow travellers in this world and, moreover, not necessarily the most intelligent among the living beings. Firmm's contribution to environmental awareness is huge and the observation of whales and dolphins leaves no one indifferent, least of all the children.

To us, this week has made one thing crystal clear: the marine mammals of Tarifa will never let us go!

Pierre Ria

¡Buen viento y buen mar!

Ria & Pierre

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