Three killer whales have been spotted in the sea that separates the boot of Italy from the Mediterranean island of Sicily, in the first such sighting in the narrow straits, Reuters reported.
Marine biologists believe they are the same group that originally came from Iceland and was seen off the coast of northwestern Italy earlier this month. Simone Vartuli, a 25-year-old fisherman, saw the fins of the killer whales emerge from the water on Friday and shot a video of the animals swimming alongside his boat.
"I moved forward until we almost touched them... Having them here in the Messina Strait was the best thing in my life," he told Reuters TV on Monday.
Gianmarco Arena, who was with Vartuli when they saw the large mammals, said he felt "very scared to begin with. That animal is twice the size of my boat." A pod of five killer whales, or orcas, arrived off the port of Genoa, in northern Italy, at the start of December, and marine biologists soon identified them as originating from Iceland more than 5,200 km away.
"This is the first-ever record of orcas migrating between Iceland and Italy in killer whale research history, and, we believe, at over 5,200 km, one of the longest migration routes ever recorded in the world to date," the Orca Guardians association in Iceland said.
Danny Groves of Whale and Dolphin Conservation, a global charity dedicated to the protection of cetaceans, said: "This is a remarkable story and a highly unusual event. In fact, this is believed to be the longest known migration of an orca pod."
"Why, is not clear. These orcas are usually summer residents in Iceland. Italy might be a one-off or they may have done this before. But it has never been witnessed or documented until now," he added.
The pod originally included a calf believed to be about a year old, which died in the seas off Genoa. A video released by the coastguard showed the mother trying to carry her dead calf before finally abandoning the body after several days.
Clara Monaco, a marine biologist and the scientific director of the Marecamp association, said: "The probability that the orcas in Messina are the same as the ones spotted in Genoa is high, but we would need some clear pictures to be sure."
Genoa is some 800 km from the Straits of Messina.