Back on track – sperm whales, tropical storm Hermine, pond safari, bad weather and lots of fun!

Experience report from participant Viviane Yuri Oide Komati

My experience with M.E.E.R in La Gomera was incredible! After a long journey by train, 2 flights, 2 buses and a ferry I arrived in our village in Valle Gran Rey, which would be my home for the next 2 weeks, and I was not disappointed at all! A tiny village in the valley, beautiful sea with black sand and an impressive landscape surrounded by high steep mountains. On the ferry from Tenerife to La Gomera some dolphins in the distance were swimming in the wake of the boat, and that really excited me as I felt it was a good start.

The course was held after a 2 years break due to covid restrictions. To my surprise, we were only 5 people in total, which was perfect for me and felt like a family atmosphere. Even though it was a small group, we were mixed in terms of career background. But that wasn’t a problem, as Tina led the course in a completely relaxed but informative and helpful way, making us feel very comfortable, including the language. My German level is not fluent, but they were really supportive in English. In fact, the team is not only highly motivated and qualified, but also flexible regarding the schedule. We got a cyclone warning by the authorities so we were a bit limited until the alert was lifted, but they managed to rearrange the schedule so we wouldn’t miss a boat day. In the end, for our luck, the cyclone changed its direction and all we had were a couple of rainy days, which was not too bad.

The days we were not in the boat we mostly had seminars, where we learned about how to collect data, use the equipment, and how to identify the species and presence of calves and/or juveniles. We also learned about the threats for the cetaceans such as ship collision, underwater noise, climate change, and pollution. This was further discussed in an activity where we were given recent scientific papers to read and present. In addition, we learned how to calibrate the equipment for land sighting, an equally interesting and exciting experience, especially when were gifted with the sighting of sperm whales travelling in the distance.

The boat trips though were always my favorite part! We had 7 trips of around 3-4 hours each, including a one long one (the best!) which took around 8 hours. We were not lucky in all the trips, but in the end all the sightings were amazing and compensated for those we missed. On one occasion we saw pilot whales and bottlenose dolphins travelling together. On another, we spotted a group of pilot whales resting, it was so peaceful and soothing to hear their breathing. We also had around 25 bottlenose dolphins travelling in proximity to our boat close the coast. We saw lonely turtles on 2 separate occasions and an injured rough-toothed dolphin, apparently injured by natural causes. On the long day trip before sunrise, it was magical to see the glowing plankton as the boat moved along the water. Then, we had a lonely bottlenose dolphin greeting us at sunrise with a high jump, and we all got emotional when a group of Atlantic spotted dolphins joined our boat to bow ride and swim along! That was indeed a life changing moment for me, as since then I haven’t been able to hold in my tears when seeing whales or dolphins in videos and/or documentaries.

This course in fact, could be life changing for many people; not only for experiencing such kinds of interactions and the splendor of nature, but also by learning and becoming aware of how fragile and vulnerable nature and its species are. Many of us are yet not aware of how important it is for each of us do our part to protect it, because after all, protecting nature and the species living in it, is also protecting us.

Besides the course, other activities in the island can complete the experience, such as hiking in the Garajonay National Park, snorkeling at Vueltas Beach and participating in the amazing “pond safari” (Tümpelsafari), in which we were able to see a variety of species thriving in that relatively small area that is exposed when the tides are low.

Two weeks will pass in a blink of an eye, and departing by bus going up the valley through those tortuous roads and seeing Valle Gran Rey down there behind, will give you a nostalgic feeling and the certainty that you will want to go back there one day again.