The Strait of Gibraltar connects two continents and two marine habitats, the Mediterranean with its higher salinity and therefore more dense water and the Atlantic Ocean with its lighter water. This causes the deep Mediterranean water masses to flow into the Atlantic, where high massifs of the ground topography of the Strait generate upwellings. This triggers the food chain and makes this spot unique worldwide.
Although this area is not officially catalogued as a “Whale Sanctuary” it should be considered as one. With ten registered species since 1998, the Strait of Gibraltar isn’t only a migration route but also the natural habitat of four resident species.
Since 1998 the foundation firmm has offered regular trips to observe whales off the coast of Tarifa, the most southern point of continental Europe. When the weather conditions allow it we have daily departures from the fishing port of Tarifa. To find one of the rare Fin Whales (second biggest after the Blue Whale) or a Sperm Whale (biggest toothed animal in the world) is what everyone hopes. The sighting probability of cetaceans in the Strait is 98% and if you belong to the unlucky 2% you will get another ticket for free.
We only work between April and October. firmm (foundation for information and research on marine mammals) has recorded all the sighting data of every trip since 1999, as no research on the cetacean population of the Strait of Gibraltar had been done before. We now understand a lot more about the cetaceans of the Strait, even if there is still much more research to be done. Before each excursion firmm gives an introduction to teach people about the site and the animals.
A bad whale watcher will drive into the groups disrespecting the minimal approach distance of 60m which is suggested by international regulations. Unfortunately, the ignoring of these rules happens frequently. Considering the growth of the whale watch activity in Tarifa over the past few years with more than 1000 customers daily in high season this kind of “industry” can turn into a serious threat to the resident cetacean populations especially when disrupting their social behaviour. We endeavour to respect the whales and dolphins and always comply with the international regulations.
The best way to get people involved into the protection of these amazing creatures is to show them how they live in nature. Because; “Only what we know, can we love and be willing to protect”.
14 species have been described in the Strait. 10 of them have been sighted since 1998 and 7 we observe more or less regularly (of which 4 are resident). To know if they are resident or not we take pictures of their dorsal fins in order to identify as many individuals as possible.
In the case of the Sperm Whales we take photographs of their fluke, shown by these “best divers” when they dive down vertically to depths of 2000 – 3000 m.
Did you know?
According to a recent study by the University of Seville …. 15 species of cetaceans – whales, dolphins and porpoises – are to be found in Andalusian waters.
Two of them, the Striped dolphin and the Harbour porpoise are officially considered in danger of extinction. The latter has disappeared from much of the Mediterranean and now found only in the Black Sea and in the Bay of Cádiz.
Common and Bottlenose dolphins live near the coast and also further out at sea. Sperm whales, Cuvier’s Beaked whales, Risso’s dolphins and Long-finned Pilot whales are found past the continental shelf, where they hunt for squid at depths of around 3,000m.
Orcas arrive from the Atlantic in search of tuna, their main prey in the area. Of the large filtering species, Fin whales are the most commonly seen, and indeed seem to be making a comeback in the region. Other great whales are present although rarely seen and they include Minke whales and even Humpback and Blue whales.
Pilot whales are also to be found locally. If you take a ferry from Algeciras to Tangiers, and know what you are looking for, you can almost certainly see Pilot whales on the surface, although they may not be close enough for a really good look. Most years we are lucky enough to spot the occasional Fin whale, Sperm whale and Killer whales as they feed, or migrate through the Straits. Now and again we come across turtles and flying fish also, but, unfortunately, you cannot expect to see everything on one trip!
A typical trip with us lasts about two hours, and is suitable for the whole family, whether you have infants or aged parents. Primarily, our aim is to find whales and dolphins for you, and everyone is welcome to help. Maybe you can spot dolphins before our crew!
Please telephone 956 627008 2 or 3 days in advance to book your trip and then phone the day before to make sure the weather is okay.
The above article is published courtesy of Joern Selling of http://www.firmm.org/.