Much as I love the mountains, I choose to live by the ocean. I was born close to the coast of North West of England, and wherever I have lived in the Canary Islands, I’ve never been more than ten minutes away from the sea, much of the time I’ve been able to watch it from my window. So, I suppose you can say that I am drawn to it. At one time, I had a twenty minute walk to work right along a coastal pathway, where I often saw dolphins passing, framed against the light of the rising sun, as they rose and dove with the waves. It was a bleak-ish period of my life, and that sight would put everything bad about my day into perspective. Perhaps that’s one reason I feel so passionately about them. One thing you take away from sighting dolphins in the wild is the sense of freedom. They can travel up to 100 miles in a day. There is, quite simply, NO WAY that they belong in concrete tanks, being treated like slaves or toy poodles for human amusement.
I am incredibly lucky to have landed up close to a part of the ocean with an amazing biodiversity. I’ve also been incredibly lucky to have spent many hours on this strip of the Atlantic, on whale watching trips, on yachts and private boats, even watching as dolphins played in the wake of the ferries on my trip around the islands four years back. For a period, I went out most weekends, almost always seeing dolphins.
Lying on my stomach on the prow of the boat, feeling as if I was swimming with them as they played alongside is as near to zen as I have ever been.
Today, I am having a new and totally unexpected experience, as I actually listen to the “whistles” and “clicks” that bottlenose dolphins and pilot whales are making as they navigate their way through this nutrient-rich patch of ocean. I have avidly watched documentaries about the language of these amazing souls from the deep, but I never dreamed it would be possible for me to hear them communicating. Diving and swimming with cetaceans in this protected area is strictly controlled, and for good reason.
My videos were rubbish, but I will try to piece them together to make something reasonable and post them to my Facebook page … if I can!
Not only am I listening to their fascinating language, but our guide, Misael, a marine biologist, is explaining to us what we hear. I am close to heaven! It’s simply a dream come true to be able to question someone so expert ….. and in these circumstances!
I left the tourist hotspot of Puerto Colon light years behind me, as the Atlantic Eco Experience boat nudged its way out of the harbor under the expert guidance of our captain, Mirna. Mirna has been following her passion for the ocean and its inhabitants for five and a half years now, first with another boat and now with Atlantic Eco Experience. Expert at spotting signs that there are dolphins or whales on the horizon, our crew of two steered for an area where dozens of Cory Shearwaters were bobbing between the waves. This is a sure sign that there is underwater feeding going on (ask anyone who has seen Blue Planet 1). Shearwaters pick up the leftovers, moving with such graceful aerodynamic precision that it takes your breath away. Within minutes we saw dolphins. Misael explained about how they feed, and then dropped a hydrophone over the side.
This is what I am listening to now, and what brings me so much joy. Many years ago, the first time I saw dolphins in the ocean, I simply cried, and I felt much the same way when I first came out with Atlantic Eco some months back, then with biologist Antonio. It’s a moving experience, eavesdropping on another species, close encounters of some kind for sure. Some sounds are eco location, the way that cetaceans navigate through the seas, sensing each other, or objects like our boat. Other sounds are communication one with another. Every dolphin has its own unique sound. This fact gives me a little thrill, somehow makes me feel closer to them. Earphones are supplied for those who have ventured to sit on the prow of the boat.
Mirna shows me the photos she just took
The stretch of the Atlantic Ocean which lies between the islands of La Gomera and Tenerife is spectacularly rich in biodiversity, which means there is a huge variety of animals and plants, all attracting other members of a substantial food chain. There are only four other places on the planet with such optimal conditions. One of those places is the Hawaiian archipelago, like the Canaries, a string of volcanic islands. In some places the mighty volcanic activity which pushed the islands from the seabed was such that there is little to no continental shelf, that means little flat area between land and deep ocean. The island of La Palma, which can be spied on a clear day from the northern coasts of Tenerife, is the steepest island in the world. Anyone who has swum here can tell you that they quickly find themselves out of the depth. As the winds blow surface water away, colder water rises from the deep to replace it. This process, called upwelling, is the cause of the immense biodiversity found in these waters, the colder water being rich the nutrients at the base of the food chain. The nutrients attract fish, squid, octopus, all of which form the diet of various cetaceans. Thus a circle of aquatic life is formed, and for this reason there are resident populations of pilot whales and dolphins, species that normally roam much more, as well as others which pass by for a “snack” on their migratory routes, even the mighty blue whale has been spotted in these waters.
My friend, Cristina, keeping a look out for activity on the water
I have learned so much on this day thanks to Misael, who answers all our questions with patience and passion. Of course we cut the engines when we are close to the whales, that’s the rule, and that done Mirna hurries with her camera to the prow of the boat in excitement. It’s a tribute to this crew that though they do this every day that weather permits (which is a LOT here in Tenerife), their dedication and enthusiasm is palpable, as is their distress when the only other boat close to us this day follows the pod. This is strictly forbidden.
Mirna waiting for that photo op
If you are thinking of taking one of these excursions, then ONLY consider taking one which flies this flag, the official approval of the Canarian Government that the boat has been approved as complying with the rules and regulations concerning observation of marine life.
Boats showing it are dedicated to protecting and conserving the animals and environment of this area, and whilst encouraging people to watch, photograph and film, they also aim to educate and encourage clients to care for the oceans. Atlantic Eco isn’t the only boat to fly the flag, but for me, it has been a much more personal (the boat will accommodate only 12) and enlightening trip than any of the others I’ve been on. A few years back I went whale watching in Ireland, and found it so much more fulfilling than what I had seen here on the island up to then. Small boats, helmed by crews who cared about the sea and its creatures stood in stark contrast to the “booze cruises” I’d been on here. I am nothing less than thrilled that Atlantic Eco is changing that.
The company has been trading for two and half years now, and have recently added a scuba diving experience to their service. It’s at least fifteen years since I was underwater, and I am sorely tempted to make a return with this company. Their ethic, like Atlantic Eco Experience is to educate as well as entertain, and to do so with the utmost respect for the planet.
Break before we head back to port, and Mirna explains to me about the Shearwaters
On this day we have seen an inordinate number of both whales and dolphins, and thrilled and happy we anchor in the bay of El Puertito for a break before returning to port. Sandwiches and drinks are broken out, and anyone willing to brave the Atlantic in early spring can swim for a while if they wish. No one does today. It’s not often in life that you get the same tingle from doing something familiar that you had the first time, but for me, this trip has now done it twice.
Although I was a guest of Atlantic Eco on both occasions I went with them, I wasn’t asked to write about them at all, let alone was it suggested that I write something favorable. In fact, they didn’t know I have a blog or social media accounts. So I can say with utter honesty that all opinions (and emotions) are my own. But thanks to them for the pic of Mirna with the flag, which I forgot to take!