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The first video was posted Tuesday on Facebook by local residents trying to get the attention of authorities to help the whales who appear to be in distress. A hunter from the village first spotted the trapped whales on Tuesday.
On Wednesday, Inukjuak Mayor Peter Inukpuk urged the Department of Fisheries and Oceans to send an icebreaker as soon as possible to make additional holes in the ice to save the animals. The ministry says it is on the scene to determine next steps.
“We know the situation, we are aware about the situation and can confirm that a pod of killer whales is trapped in the ice in Inukjuak,” said Sylvia Racine, a spokeswoman with the ministry.
“The overall situation is that killer whales don’t mix well with ice,” he said.
“In my 20 years working on Arctic issues, I haven’t heard of or seen anything with killer whales stuck in the ice like this,” said Ewins. There have been instances of other marine mammals such as belugas and grey whales finding themselves trapped in ice.
He says the killer whales were most likely trying to make their way to the Atlantic Ocean via the Hudson strait, but may have either been caught by the ice freezing quickly during a cold spell, when a lot of thick ice can form very quickly. It is believed that the water froze later than usual this year.
“Some of them got caught, by the ice changes happening unpredictability,”
Ewins estimates that there are around 20 or more whales in the video. They appear visibly distressed as they come up for air. Their situation is likely to get even worse as the edge around their water hole begins to freeze.
“These whales can only stay underwater for a certain amount of time, and they know from their echolocation sonar that there just aren’t open water areas within the range of where they are now,” he said.
He believes there are only three options available going forward.
• To let nature play its course, through which some of the whales may survive. Although he points out there are still three to four months before the ice would melt.
• In some cases, where other whales have been highly emaciated and stressed, the best option is to destroy them all.
Ewins says that there are a number of environmental studies that indicate that ice entrapments are increasing as a result of increased industrial noises in the water. As noises from ships, development increases, scared animals often find themselves swimming into unchartered areas, which can lead to entrapment.