Race Is On To Save Killer Whales Trapped Under Ice (Update)

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A dozen killer whales are stuck under a large sheet of sea ice off the coast of Canada, and officials and scientists are scrambling to find a way to lead them to open water. The whales managed to find a small breathing hole nearly the village near the northeastern shore of Hudson Bay in Quebec, where they can surface and grab oxygen, but locals estimate they are about six miles from the edge of the ice, and the hole can barely sustain the entire pod.

The mayor of Inukjuak—the nearest village, which is an hour away from the whales by snowmobile—has asked for an ice-breaking ship to come and lead them to safety, but the Canadian government says it has dispatched "specialists" to evaluate the situation first. Officials say the temperatures in the area dropped rapidly in recent days and likely caught the whales off guard when the ice froze. If the temperatures continue to drop the hole may also freeze over and locals are do have the tools to keep the hole open or tend to the struggling whales. 

The situation is reminiscent of a movie that came out last year, Big Miracle, which told the true story of how volunteers in Alaska helped save three gray whales from a similar fate in 1988,

Unfortunately, the incident has already claimed the life one animal: A polar bear that was drawn to hole by all the commotion was shot and killed by hunters.

UPDATE 11:45 p.m.: Good news! ABC News now reports that shifting winds opened more areas of water around the orcas and crated a path to open water, allowing the whales to escape on their own. No ice-breakers needed.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.