“We have no choice but to wait for the ice to break up and for them to escape that way,” an official told public broadcaster NHK
A pod of killer whales is reportedly trapped and cannot escape drift ice off the coast of Hokkaido, Japan's northernmost island.
The orcas were first spotted on Tuesday morning, according to public broadcaster NHK. A fisherman noticed at least 10 orcas were stuck in thick drift ice about 1 kilometer off the coast and alerted the coast guard.
“We have no choice but to wait for the ice to break up and for them to escape that way,” an official from the town of Rausu told NHK.
— NHK北海道 (@nhk_hokkaido) February 6, 2024
The wildlife organization Wildlife Pro LLC, which does marine research in the area, posted a drone video on their Facebook page that showed the mammals trapped from above, according to CNN.
“I saw about 13 killer whales with their heads sticking out of a hole in the ice,” Seiichiro Tsuchiya, who filmed the video for Wildlife Pro LLC, told NHK. “They seemed to be struggling to breathe, and it looked like they included three or four calves.”
Rausu is located on the coast of Hokkaido's Shiretoko peninsula, which is a UNESCO World Heritage site. The sea off the island's coast is covered in drift ice each winter, reports The Guardian. The ice sheets have barely moved due to a lack of wind this week, officials said.
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A similar incident occurred in 2005 when a pod of killer whales was trapped with no way to help them out of the ice. It resulted in most of the orcas dying while waiting for the ice to break, according to NHK.
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