Orca Completes 8,000km Swim from Iceland to Lebanon Skip to content
Photo: Photo by Giuseppe Milo, via CC 3.0.

Orca Completes 8,000km Swim from Iceland to Lebanon

A male orca whale belonging to an Icelandic pod was sighted around Beirut, Lebanon, on February 19 and 20. Per a press release issued by Orca Guardians of Iceland, this is a journey of just over 8,000 kilometres (4,970 miles) and is the longest known one-way distance travelled by any ‘killer whale’ to date.

The whale identified as SN113, or “Riptide,” started his journey off the coast of the Snæfellsnes peninsula in West Iceland, where he was last seen in June 2018. He and his pod were later spotted around Genoa, Italy in December 2019 before moving on to Lebanon. Orca Guardians say this is also the first confirmed sighting of an orca in Lebanese waters. RÚV reports that Riptide’s marathon swim has broken the previous record for longest documented distance travelled by an orca by 2,500 km (1,553 miles).

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Orca Guardians head Marie-Thérèse Mrusczok was able to identify Riptide by markings on his dorsal fin and head using photographs of the wandering whale and comparing them to her organisation’s catalogue of 300 individuals. Orca Guardians has some concern for Riptide’s health at this point, as the whale is reported to appear emaciated and is travelling without the other members of its pod, who had been his companions both in Iceland and in Italy.

Orca Guardians report that there are 29 known orca whales that migrate Scotland and Iceland, but that this is the first time an orca has travelled this particular route, from Iceland to Italy to Lebanon. In an interview with RÚV, Marie-Thérèse said that it is, in fact, unusual for an orca to swim into Mediterranean waters at all.

“Orcas have never really been seen before in Lebanon,” she explained. “There were sailors who said they saw them swimming there in the 1980s, but nothing was confirmed. So this is unusual. It was also strange when they were seen in Italy. Orcas don’t usually swim so far into the Mediterranean.”

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