Adiós Tarifa – a retrospective

by firmm Team

Text: Raja Richter; Fotos: firmm

Sometimes there are days in your life, where everything is just right. For me the 31st of August was such a day. Admittedly, the whole past two months were especially beautiful because I spent July and August in Tarifa, the southernmost point of mainland Europe, where I worked as a volunteer for the foundation firmm.

I got to know firmm on a family vacation and was very impressed by the foundation; therefore I came to Spain with pretty high expectations, and I was not disappointed. What could be more beautiful than going out on the sea at least twice a day during the summer and watching whales and dolphins?  Already in the first week I saw all 7 types that are present in the Strait of Gibraltar: Common and Striped Dolphins, Bottlenose Dolphins, Pilot Whales, Sperm Whales, a Fin Whale and Killer Whales.  For a whale-freak like me, of course, a dream.

Common Dolphins Striped Dolphins Sperm WhaleFin Whale Orcas

Apart from  the sightings of whales and dolphins there was the daily routine as a volunteer: one to three lectures per day in two languages about the foundation and the animals, working in the office, cleaning the office and taking care of the tourists on the whale watching trips. In this environment, you quickly learn to adapt to the different needs and characters of guests. Now I know that environmental protection is not as strongly anchored in the minds of all people as it is in mine, but the foundation is doing a lot to change that. As a volunteer you also have to be prepared to fit into existing structures.

Apropos different characters:  they also meet when seven people are living together and sharing the firmm- flat. What seemed a bit overwhelming in the beginning, soon turned out to be a great experience that I wouldn’t want to miss. Because all the volunteers that I got to know in my weeks in Tarifa have left a lasting impression on me and shared with me a lot of knowledge and experience of life that I can take along with me. Together we have taken trips, braved the Levante, and enjoyed life at sea and the unique flair of Tarifa or winded down at sunset. Just things you do with your friends.

The 31st of August was my last day in this company, and so I was more than happy as we all had the opportunity to go together on the firmm boat “Vision” once more. The evening tours were always very special for me and this should be no exception.  The sea was calm, the boat pleasantly empty, and we had this very special light that we only see very early in the morning or in the evening. After a short time we sighted Pilot Whales in the distance, at first only a small group, later more groups with about 4-6 animals.  Because these whales were the first that I saw in the Strait of Gibraltar I believed in a stroke of luck.

Striped Dolphin "Breaching" Pilot Whales

But things got even better. Soon Katharina Heyer announced via the microphone a group of Bottlenose Dolphins. When we approached them I quickly realized that there were quite a lot of animals, at least 20, more than I had ever seen before at once. The animal group remained close to our boat, exactly on the side where we volunteers had gathered to observe.  The bottlenose dolphins played, showed their tail fins and sometimes even their white bellies. Eventually one of the animals began to raise his head from the water while swimming, so you could see a third of its body.  “Well, for a jump it needs a little bit more”, said one of the volunteers next to me for fun. But as if the animal granted our request, it jumped out of the water in front of us just one moment later. Not only that, the next jump of the bottlenose dolphin was even higher, maybe 3 meters and we were all sure that the animal darted a glance at us. We even were able to admire a third jump, then another jumping animal a little further away; the bottlenose dolphins offered a real show…or a unique farewell. Afterwards we thought that the dolphins could feel our positive “volunteer power”, our joy to be out there on the water with them. Either way, it was an incredible experience.

Bottlenose Dolphin Jumping Bottlenose Dolphin

Almost all the time also Pilot Whales stayed in our area, so that we could admire them from close before we returned to Tarifa. On the way back, I looked around me and discovered a few common dolphins jumping in our bow wave.

What a unique experience I was able to share with people dear to my heart. I believe that there are not many things in the world that are so connecting and touching as watching whales and dolphins in freedom. With this in mind, many thanks to my co-volunteers and the whole team of firmm!!!

PS: From October on I am going to study biology with the aim of becoming a marine biologist.

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