Having some friends over from the UK seemed like the perfect time to go Whale Watching in Tarifa. We sent an email to the female half of the couple, Emma telling her of our plans. That night, when her partner, Clive arrived home, she excitedly told him that we were going “Shark Searching”! So whilst Emma was searching for sharks, the rest of us looked, successfully for whales and dolphins.
Not being an expert in the area of whales, dolphins, or indeed boats, I would like to share my new found knowledge and recommend three essential items you will need when watching whales. I suggest you take sea sickness tablets, sun tan lotion, and a camera. Well as the meatloaf song goes, “two out if three ain’t bad”, read on to the end to see which I forgot.
Tarifa is in the province of Cádiz and is thought by some to be the origin of the word ‘tariff’ based on the fact that it was the first port to charge merchants for the use of its docks. The coastline is an interesting mix of old military fortresses and long, wide stretches of golden sand. There is a lot of wind in and around Tarifa, making it ideal for water sports such as windsurfing and kite surfing. As you approach the town along the N340 you will see approximately 269 wind turbines producing electricity. These graceful giants are part of Spain’ plan to produce 30% of electricity from renewable energy sources by 2010 (half of which will come from wind power).
There are a number of companies offering whale watching excursions in Tarifa, we chose a company called Turmares who have three different sized boats. We opted to go on the 10-seat boat called “Rainbow”; however when we turned up we were told that the Rainbow was not available as not enough people had booked it; so we ended up on the “Dolphin”, a boat that seated 75 people. As it turned out, this proved to be a better option, as you were able to walk around and look from either port or starboard or even left and right if you wanted to (that was a joke by the way!).
As we set off from the port, which these days is not very busy except for the high-speed ferry service to Morocco offered by FRS and a few private boats, we were speculated whether the boat was equipped with sonar equipment or not. This was soon answered when we spied a man on the top of the boat with a pair of binoculars. This simple method obviously worked, as after 20 minutes or so we saw our first school of 5 Pilot whales swimming very near the boat. A Pilot whale looks very much like a large dolphin, but the leaflet handed out at the beginning of the trip helped to identify them. Announcements stating what we could see were also made in Spanish, English and German over the boats loudspeaker system.
As the Pilot whales gave us a display of their abilities to crash through the waves effortlessly the air was filled with “oohs” and “ahs”, including mine I will freely admit. Then we were off again aiming purposefully for something in the distance. The something this time turned out to be some common dolphins. Once again these amazing creatures were able to give us a close-up demonstration of their gracefulness and speed in their natural habitat. But as disrespectful as it may sound to the wonderful common dolphin, it was whales that we really hoped to see. We had already read in the literature that we were given, that this is not the time of year to see Killer Whales, but other whales were around.
Once again the boat picked up speed and we headed towards what initially looked like some disturbance in the water, and then a black line which eventually turned into the back and fin of a Sperm whale. This was confirmed by the announcement on the loudspeaker. A guide on the boat said that the whale we could see was approximately 18 to 20 metres long. Sperm whales stay beneath the waves for an hour at a time before coming up for air for 15 or so minutes.
We stood and watched for about 10 minutes as the whale expelled water in a small fountain from its air hole. Then eventually it arched its back and began to dive. The last sight was its huge tail exiting the water and disappearing without as much as a splash. The only word or expression to cover this sight was once again “ahhhh….” which was uttered by all nationalities on the boat, British, Spanish and German.
Before our 2-hour boat trip was over we had the pleasure of seeing another Sperm Whale of a similar size. This one however appeared older, with white scar tissue on the side of its body; the result of a previous skirmish. The trip cost us 27 Euros per person, and believe you me, it was worth every centimo.
OK, so which of the three items did I forget? Did I ruin the day by feeling seasick and a bit green around the gills? Or did I get burnt to a crisp under the blazing sun? It was neither of these. With the prospect of seeing some of the world’s most amazing creatures, I forgot my camera; which can only be summed up in one word – pathetic.