Killer Whales Trapped Under Sea Ice Make a Break for It

Orcas off coast of Japan, spotted huddled together and bobbing in the waters, appear to have escaped
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Feb 7, 2024 7:15 AM CST
Killer Whales Trapped Under Sea Ice Make a Break for It
This image made from video shows a pod of killer whales bobbing up and down in a small gap surrounded by drift ice in Rausu, Hokkaido, in northern Japan, on Tuesday.   (NTV-NNN via AP)

As a nation held its breath, so, too, did a pod of killer whales trapped beneath the ice off of the northern shores of Japan, bobbing their heads up and down from a small gap in the ice to breathe. Now, officials say the dozen or so orcas appear to have escaped their frigid plight less than a mile from Hokkaido, where drone video showed them huddled together, their heads sticking out of the sea ice, reports the AP. A local fisherman is said to have originally spotted the whales and reported them on Tuesday to officials in Rausu, who made the trip to the coast later that day.

When the officials visited again on Tuesday night, the pod had shifted somewhat north, and conservationist groups had gotten wind of the dilemma and started asking the Japanese government to intervene. One group even suggested that the nation's Defense Ministry deploy an icebreaker to help. "They seemed to be struggling to breathe, and it looked like they included three or four calves," an employee with the Wildlife Pro LLC organization who recorded the footage told the NHK broadcaster, per CNN.

The BBC notes that video showed some of the whales with what looked like blood near their jaws, suggesting injuries they sustained while trying to break free. By Wednesday morning, however, the orcas had vanished completely. "We believe they were able to escape safely," one official notes. It's good news for the orcas, who can't stay underwater for as long as other large whales—they need to come to the surface every few minutes to bring in some air. Another pod of killer whales was trapped in drift ice off Hokkaido in 2005, but they had a less-fortunate fate and died, according to NHK. (More killer whales stories.)

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