Updated: 01/09/2013 11:05 PM KSTP.com By: Scott Theisen
A Wisconsin de-icing company is scrambling to find a way to get to Quebec's Far North where about a dozen killer whales are trapped under a vast stretch of sea ice.
Locals in Inukjuak said the mammals have gathered around a single hole in the ice - slightly bigger than a pickup truck - in a desperate bid to get oxygen.
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.
Twenty-five years ago Greg Ferrian and the Prescott, Wis., de-icing company he's involved with, Kasco Marine, were instrumental in saving three grey whales in the same predicament in Alaska.
Ferrian put his bubblers in the ice hole and helped save the whales. By sucking up the warmer water underneath, the bubblers prevent the top layer of water from freezing. Without them the holes would have quickly frozen over and the whales may not have made it.
The company is hoping to do the same thing in this latest incident.
Mayor Peter Inukpuk urged the Canadian government Wednesday to send an icebreaker as soon as possible to crack open the ice and help them find open water. The Department of Fisheries and Oceans said it is sending officials to assess the situation.
"Fisheries and Oceans Canada is assessing the situation and are exploring every possible option, but will only be in a position to determine what - if anything - can be done once our specialists arrive on site," spokesman Frank Stanek said in a statement.
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.