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Animals That Travel the Furthest

Check out the Top 14 animals that cover the longest distances!

What animals migrate over longest distances? Where do they go and why do animals travel in the first place? Here is a list of animals that cover the greatest distances.

Unless otherwise stated the numbers always refer to a roundtrip „there and back“. That means the whole way from wintering grounds to summer quarters and back. Below the table you will find a number of other exciting facts!

Wildebeest herd Wildebeest herd - Photo: Sergey Uryadnikov/Shutterstock


Top 14 World's Longest Animal Migrations

Arctic Tern 18,640 miles (30,000 km)
Silky Shark 17,000 miles (27,666 km)
Leatherback Sea Turtle 12,774 miles (20,558 km)
Gray Whale 13,988 miles (22,511 km)
Humpback Whale 11,406 miles (18,356 km)
Globe Skimmer 8,700-11,180 miles (14,000-18,000 km)
Loggerhead Sea Turtle 9,009 miles (14,500 km)
Bar-Tailed Godwit * 7,580 miles (12,200 km)
Mule deer 3,728 miles (6,000 km)
Pronghorn antelope 3,728 miles (6,000 km)
Caribou ** 2,982 miles (4,800 km)
Desert Locust 2,796 miles (4,500 km)
Monarch Butterfly *** 1,988 miles (3,200 km)
Wildebeest 1,200 miles (1,900 km)

* one-way, non-stop from Alaska to New Zealand in 224 hours
** a North American reindeer
*** one-way

Arctic Tern Arctic Tern - Photo: Mark Medcalf/Shutterstock

Why Do Animals Travel?


Animals often leave one habitat to get to another. And this could be many miles away. They walk (e.g. hoofed animals), fly (e.g. birds and insects) or swim (e.g. whales) to a new place. In most cases, animals move to warmer climates for winter.


Like the monarch butterfly. When winter takes hold in Canada, they take to the air and fly south to pleasantly warm Mexico. This 1988 miles (3,200 km) journey is so impressive because butterflies are so much more delicate than caribous.



Animals also travel because they can’t find enough food. Or they need certain weather (e.g. dry or rainy season). Some animals travel because they meet up and mate in a certain place. Like turtles.

How Far Do Animals Travel?

Arctic Tern

The Arctic Tern flies almost all the way around the world to escape from winter. And we mean that literally, as this bird manages a journey of 18,640 miles (30,000 km) and the Earth measures a little more than 24,854 miles (40,000 km). A hiker spending ALL day walking with a rest each night would take four years to complete this trip. Such a long trip must be tiring. So the Arctic tern does something during its flight that we should never do while cycling, skating or even walking: sleep. It just turns one half of its brain off, and steers with the other. Dolphins also use this trick.

The Arctic tern covers this distance twice a year, which then sums up to a total length of 43,000 miles (70,000 km). The record is 59,650 miles (96,000 km).

Leatherback Sea Turtle

The leatherback sea turtle's record is 12,774 miles (20,558 km). It is so very precise, because it’s based on a single animal that was wearing a tracker.

Traveling Together in Large Groups

Wildebeest, Zebras and Gazelles

Speaking of “millions”: lots of animals travel in large herds. Towards the end of the rainy season, wildebeest leave the dry pastures of Tanzania and move towards Kenya. Around 1.5 million animals make the trip at the same time. Zebras also travel in large groups of up to 200,000 animals. Gazelles can make herds of up to 500,000.

Straw-Colored Fruit Bat

There are huge gatherings like this in the sky as well. Each year, eight million straw-colored fruit bats fly from the Kongo to Zambia and back depending on the rainy or dry season.

What Kinds of Animal Travel?


The best known traveling animals are migratory birds. Around 50 billion (!) animals travel each year, of which around five billion travel between Europe and Africa. As well as the Arctic tern and the bar-tailed godwit, this group includes swallows, swifts, thrushes and storks.


When it comes to mammals, wildebeest are best known for their migration. Zebras, gazelles, buffalo, caribou, whales, dolphins, antelopes, elephants, camels, dromedaries and even big cats like the snow leopard migrate.


Some insects, like butterflies, orthoptera and dragonflies, also travel far and wide. The globe skimmer Pantala flavescens takes to flight with millions of other dragonflies to travel an impressive 8,700-11,180 miles (14,000-18,000 km) from southern India to South Africa and back. The most impressive thing: 372 to 483 miles (600 to 800 km) of this trip involves flying over the ocean. A dragonfly!


Migratory fish species include salmon, tuna and swordfish.

Source: "Longest recorded migration of a silky shark" (

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