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Whale Watching Tarifa

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Whale Watching Tarifa

When Is the Best Time 

Whale watching tours are offered from April to October. 

Tarifa is the capital city of wind. From time to time the Levante is too strong that neither fisher boats nor whale watching boats can leave the harbor.

If there is too much fog in the morning whale watching trips are also canceled. Book your trip in advance and confirm a day before.

Dolphins and Pilot Whales:
They can be seen throughout the year. Pilot whales are night active diving deep for hunting their prey like squid. At day time they rest on the surface of the sea. 

Orcas:
Orcas follow the tuna migration into the Mediterranean Sea and out. They come for the tuna in June and can be spotted until August. The tuna is too fast for them to catch with 90 km/h and orcas are clever. They only appear when the fishermen are out in the sea, and they try to catch their tuna from the hook. Tours are offered in July and August in the morning and last for about 3 hours all other whale watching tours last around 2 hours. 

Sperm Whales:
They can be spotted from April to August. They appear at the surface for about 8 minutes to breathe before diving again.

Fin Whales:
They cross the Strait and can sometimes be spotted. In 2016 firmm had 27 sightings.

Crowds:
Peak season in summer. Prices for hotels and apartments increase, and advanced booking is essential. Most of the rental houses are offered from Saturday to Saturday. Spring, September, and October are less busy and less expensive. Anyhow the orca season runs from July to August only. 

Discover 
Ocean Life
ES
Where  
Spain, Tarifa
Review and Tips 

Tarifa is the Southernmost town on the European continent and known world wide as the capital of wind. 

Tarifa is popular for whale and specifically orca watching in the Strait of Gibraltar. The Atlantic Ocean has some major species of cetacean, and so does the Mediterranean. Orcas follow the large bluefin tuna migration, who enter the Med to spawn. According to the local experts of firmm, there are around 60 orcas hunting tuna in the summertime. When the bluefin tuna migrates out of the Mediterranean Sea the Spanish and Moroccan fishermen follow them, fishing in little boats and the orcas synchronize their hunting with the fishermen. This would be sustainable fishing of tuna.

Unfortunately, 90% of the tuna is for the Japanese market, and they prefer to get tuna for sushi before spawning. The reason that tuna get caught before and after reproduction. Formerly there were three big Japanese trawlers nowadays one only. The tuna declines which has an enormous impact on the food chain. 

Facts about the different cetaceans which can be spotted. All of them are toothed whales except the fin whale:

  • Orcas
    Orcas occur in the Strait of Gibraltar for 2000 years now. The orca is the largest member of the dolphins and lives in pods with up to 40 members. It has a white spot behind the eye. Distinguishing male and female is easy. The male has high, sword-shaped dorsal fin and females curved. They can get up to 10 meters long and weigh up to 10 tons. Males live for 30-50 years and females for 50-80 years. Sexual maturity after age 13 with the rate of reproduction every 3-12 years. They are highly intelligent with different techniques depending on their surrounding for hunting prey. They can adapt very well to any water temperature either close to the equator or the North and South Pole.
     
  • Long-finned Pilot Whales
    They live in groups with 15 members and more and are present all year in the Strait of Gibraltar. They all have different dorsal fins, and it's easy to distinguish them. They have a lifespan of up to 60 years and have a size of 4-8 meters. Their maximum weight is 3.5 tons. When they get born, they are maximum 2 meters long and weigh up to 75 kg. Their sexual maturity starts between their age of 7-14 with the rate of reproduction every 3-5 years. They dive up to 800 meters deep for the squid for around 20 minutes. Their spray is only up to one meter high and can be seen in ideal conditions. The name pilot comes from their behavior. One whale is in front of the group to guide them. They sleep with one eye open and one closed while also half of the brain is resting and only half awake to continue breathing. The reason why they can be easily spotted at daytime. 
     
  • Sperm Whales
    It is the largest of the toothed whales with the largest brain of all animals. The blow hole is located left of the center near in the front of the head, and the blow can be seen from far away. It can dive up to 3000 meters for more than an hour. The sperm whale only comes to the surface for breathing for about 8 minutes. Males can be up to 20 meters long and weigh in average 35-45 tons with a maximum of 65 tons. Females are much smaller maximum 12 meters long. They have a lifespan of 70-80 years. The sexual maturity starts from around 9 years of age with the rate of reproduction every 5-7 years. The sperm whales migrate seasonally for feeding and breeding. Males migrate to colder sea temperatures like in the Strait of Gibraltar while females prefer the warmer tropical sea. The name comes from the spermaceti organ in the head. 
     
  • Fin Whales
    This whale belongs to the baleen whales. This kind of whales has comb- like plates instead of teeth. They filter the water to feed on plankton, crustaceans, fish, and squid. It is the second largest whale after the blue whale and can get up to 27 meters. Usually, they travel alone or in small pods. The two blow holes are in the middle with a 5-meter high blow. When they get born, they have a size of around 6.5 meters and weigh more than one ton. Their head looks V-shaped and is almost flat. They have a long lifespan of up to 100 meters. They can dive deep up to 450 meters for approximately 15 minutes. Usually, they reach sexual maturity at the age of 6 and mate again after around 3 years.
     
  • Bottlenose Dolphins
    They behave like the pilot whales one eye and half of the brain is resting while the other part is active to continue breathing. They are much bigger than other dolphins with 2-4 meters length. Their lifespan is around 50 years when not in captivity in a dolphinarium or aquarium. They can dive several hundred meters deep but prefer to spend most of the time in less than 2 meters. They have an excellent sense of hearing and eyes under water and above. Dolphins are very social swimming in huge schools. 
     
  • Striped Dolphins
    They are easily recognized by its light blue color. They are very social living in huge pods up to 100 and even more is possible. They can grow to a length of about 1.8-2.5 meters and weigh a maximum of about 170 kg. In contrast to the bottlenose dolphin, they refuse to be trained in captivity. This species is considered to be highly stable. When searching for food, they dive up to many hundred meters deep.
     
  • Common Dolphins
    They are almost the same size than the stripped dolphins but weigh less. They are easy to identify by their pale- yellowish patch on their sides. They live up to 40 years in large schools sometimes up to several thousand members. They are energetic acrobats with spectacular jumping skills and one of the fastest cetaceans. They can dive up to 200 meters for a maximum of 8 minutes but mostly much shorter. Unfortunately, the population in the Med has been decreasing rapidly. There are several reasons all manmade; over-fishing, they get caught in trawler's nets and pollution.
     

More information and booking.

Fascinating is the whole week excursion for respectful whale watching.

(updated by When to be Where)

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Comments

Aug 24, 2015

Great didn't expect that there are Orcas in Spain.

Aug 24, 2015

Micha, the Atlantic Ocean has some major species of cetacean and so does the Med. Orcas specificly follow the blue fin tuna migration, who enter the Med to spawn. According to the local experts there some 3 pods of orca hunting tuna in summertime. They follow the Marrocan fischermen, who fish in little boats, and synchronise their hunting with the fishermen. Whale watching trips leave from Tarifa and look for dolphins, pilot whales and orcas.

Jul 31, 2017
We booked the five days excursion with firmm and enjoyed the whole program and whale watching trips. First, Katharina the founder introduced the foundation, their important research and what we may see. We never experienced whale watching in such a respectful way. They identify the whales mainly by their dorsal fins and name them.

We spotted one cute orca baby who is called Wilson and several dolphin babies. You get much information about the threats to the whales and dolphins. There is the risk of getting hit by large ships or ending up in fishing nets. The noise must be severe for the cetaceans due to more than 300 ships crossing the Strait of Gibraltar each day. Litter is a huge problem in the sea. The explanation how long does it take that a plastic bag (75 years) or even a cigarette butt (50 years) needs to decompose is terrifying.

After the introduction, we went on a guided hike with a marine biologist at low tide. He explained much about the coast and the little creatures which are influenced by the tides. Due to the strong Levante, the whale watching trips were canceled the first two days, and the other three were packed full of trips. All of us got addicted and enjoyed the morning trips where we spotted pods of orcas. At the evening trips, we always spotted pilot whales and different dolphins. One day we saw the spray of a sperm whale far away, and the boatman tried to get to it fast but shortly after we observed the fin and it dived deep again. If you go on such a trip observe the sea, we spotted sunfish floating close to the surface each day.

We appreciate the work of firmm a lot and their distance and respect to the whales and dolphins. They don’t get too close by boat but no worries mostly they whales come close by themselves and dolphins are curious. They offer the trips and explanations in different languages.