A community in the far northern region of Quebec is asking for government assistance to help free roughly a dozen killer whales that have become trapped under the sea ice. Inukjuak mayor Peter Inukpuk asked the government on Wednesday to send an icebreaker to help free the whales, which have been videotaped gathered around the same hole in the ice, gasping for air.
Time is running out for the whales, as the hole is rapidly shrinking. A Department of Fisheries and Oceans spokeman said in a statement that they are sending representatives to assess the situation, but indicated that they might not be able to help.
According to cetacean researcher Christian Ramp, who spoke to CBC News, the trapped whales may be indicative of disturbing fallout from climate change.
He said what makes this case unique is that it could be the first sighting of killer whales in the Canadian Arctic in January. Unlike narwhals, belugas, and bowheads, orcas are not an ice-loving species, Ramp said, following their prey north during the summer months but retreating before the ice moves in. He said with climate change, it appears the animals are straying further and further north—and perhaps, staying too long.
Hopefully this plays out like Operation Breakthrough in 1988, in which icebreakers were able to free two of three gray whales trapped in the Beaufort Sea—and not like the 2005 incident in the Japanese Arctic where the whales’ hole froze over and they drowned.
UPDATE: A small boy with a big heart has helped the whales jump to safety. Kidding: According to ABC News, the floes shifted and the orcas were able to swim to out.