POSTED: 2:45 p.m. HST, Jan 9, 2013
LAST UPDATED: 5:31 a.m. HST, Jan 10, 2013
MONTREAL » A Canadian village leader says about a dozen killer whales that were trapped under sea ice appear to have reached safety after the floating ice shifted on Hudson Bay.
Tommy Palliser said today that two hunters from Inukjuak village reported the water had opened up around the area where the cornered whales had been bobbing frantically for air.
Locals said the mammals had been trapped around a single, truck-sized breathing hole for at least two days.
Palliser says villagers had been planning to launch a rescue operation today.
But he says the winds seemed to shift overnight, pushing the floating ice further away from shore to open up the water.
Mayor Peter Inukpuk had urged the Canadian government to send an icebreaker.
A hunter first spotted the pod of about a dozen trapped whales Tuesday at the hole, which is on the eastern shore of the Hudson Bay. Inukjuak is about 900 miles north of Montreal.
Dozens of villagers made the one-hour snowmobile ride Tuesday to see the unusual spectacle. They snapped photos and shot video footage of the killer whales surfacing in the opening — and even thrusting themselves skyward while gasping for air.
One woman who made the journey to the gap in the ice said even a curious polar bear approached the hole amid the commotion. Siasie Kasudluak said the bear was shot by a local hunter for its meat.
The trapped orcas appeared to be in distress, but locals were ill-equipped to help out.
Kasudluak said the hole appeared to be shrinking in the freezing temperatures. Inukpuk believes the sudden drop in temperature recently caught the orcas off guard, leaving them boxed in under the ice.