Trapped Killer Whales Freed By Shifting Sea Ice: Locals

Jan 10, 2013 Posted by

Whales are free, but why are they stuck in the first place?

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CP  |  By Andy Blatchford, The Canadian Press Posted: 01/10/2013 9:46 am EST  |  Updated: 01/10/2013 11:21 am EST

MONTREAL – A leader in a northern Quebec village says about a dozen killer whales that were trapped under sea ice appear to have reached safety as the floes shifted on Hudson Bay.

Tommy Palliser said two hunters from Inukjuak reported Thursday that the waters had opened up around the area where the cornered orcas had been bobbing frantically for air.

“They confirmed that the whales were no longer there and there was a lot of open water,” said Palliser, a business adviser with the regional government.

The animals’ predicament made international headlines and images of the orcas circulated via media around the world.

Locals say the mammals had been trapped around a single, pickup-truck-sized breathing hole for at least two days.

Palliser said the winds seemed to shift overnight, pushing the floating ice further away from the shore to open up the water.

“The wind started to pick up last night from the land, blowing into the bay,” he said.

“The winds certainly make a lot of difference in terms of the ice conditions.”

The cornered animals, first seen Tuesday, appeared to have less energy by late Wednesday, Palliser said. There were also fears the hole was shrinking after ice moved toward land and the water continued to freeze over.

Locals believe the recent sudden drop in temperature caught the orcas off guard, leaving them boxed in under the ice.

Inukjuak Mayor Peter Inukpuk has said the Department of Fisheries and Oceans informed him that government icebreakers were too far from the area to smash the ice to free the orcas.

Villagers responded by making plans late Wednesday to launch a daring rescue operation Thursday to buy more time for the gasping killer whales.

Palliser said locals had agreed to attempt to enlarge the existing breathing hole — and cut a second opening using chainsaws and drills.

“It’s certainly good news — that’s good news for the whales,” he said.

“We certainly had our prayers with them last night during our meeting.”

DFO said incidents where marine mammals are trapped by ice are not unusual in the North.

A veterinarian affiliated with Quebec’s marine mammal emergency network says sea ice is known as a natural cause of death for animals like orcas.

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