A lone orca whale is sighted off the coast of Beirut, Lebanon on February 20, 2020 at approximately 4:30pm. Photo: courtesy of Ali Jaouhar, Green Southerners conservation group

Eight thousand kilometres from the Nordic waters of Iceland, an orca whale, possibly the last of his pod, has emerged emaciated and alone off the coast of Lebanon.

“An orca! That’s an orca! You know, the smart one,” exclaimed a fisherman in Arabic, as he catches sight of the towering dorsal fin in a video filmed from a boat near Beirut and posted to social media.

“Riptide,” as the killer whale has been identified by conservation group Orca Guardians Iceland, has traveled a record-setting distance to the Eastern Mediterranean.

“A male killer whale spotted in the Beirut area on the 19th and 20th of February, has now been confirmed to belong to an Icelandic pod of orcas that was last sighted in Iceland in June 2018, and spotted near Genoa, Italy, in December 2019,” said Iceland Orca Guardians.

“There is growing concern about the health status of the animal, which is showing signs of emaciation, and was sighted without the remaining members of his group.”

The orca is listed in critical danger of extinction, according to the Monaco-based consortium ACCOBAMS, or the Agreement for the Conservation of Cetaceans of the Black Sea, Mediterranean Sea, and Contiguous Atlantic Area, to which Lebanon is a party.

While the presence of orcas in the Mediterranean ranges from “regular to occasional,” a journey from Iceland to the eastern extremity of this sea body and the apparent break-up of the pod has raised alarm.

Ali Jaouhar, the Lebanese environmental activist who identified Riptide off the coast of Beirut, stressed that no one should approach the endangered creature.

“He is under extreme stress for the loss of his family; he’s probably mourning his loss and searching for what’s left of the pod. He is emaciated and frail … we don’t know why but it could be because of the loss or the lack of food,” he told Asia Times.

Jaouhar, a member of the local conservation group Green Southerners, says they are working in collaboration with Lebanon’s National Council for Scientific Research to raise awareness about the endangered creature.

“We are doing what we can to offer him protection; calling coast guards, preventing boats not to sail fast near the port, fishermen not to throw nets, and divers not to dive in the area where he was found.”

Already, the youngest member of the Icelandic pod, a year-old calf, was reported to have died off the coast of Italy in late December.

Then, earlier this month, an adult killer whale washed up on the shores of southern Lebanon, missing its dorsal fin.

Riptide is thus the second killer whale to emerge in Lebanese territorial waters in a fortnight.

It was not immediately clear what impact climate change may have had in the rare movement.

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Alison Tahmizian Meuse

Alison T Meuse is the Asia Times Middle East editor and correspondent.