Japanese Officials Give Hopeful Update on Orcas Trapped in Ice


A pod of orcas were seen trapped by sea ice in drone footage taken off the coast of Rausu, Japan on Tuesday. But by Wednesday the mammals were gone, giving officials hope that they were able to safely escape.

An organization called Wildlife Pro had been conducting marine research off the island of Hokkaido when a local fisherman spotted the orcas and alerted the team, who then went to the scene and notified local officials. “I saw about 13 killer whales with their heads sticking out of a hole in the ice,” the Wildlife Pro employee who captured the footage recalled to Japan’s NHK public broadcasting. “They seemed to be struggling to breathe, and it looked like they included three or four calves.”

In the footage, the killer whales could be seen bobbing up and down for air through a small hole in the ice.

Officials believed a lack of wind in the area prevented the ice from being able to break apart, creating enough space for the pod to escape. “We have no choice but to wait for the ice to break up and for them to escape that way,” a Rausu official told NHK.

However, when officials later returned to the area on Tuesday evening they saw that the pod had moved to the north. And according to Rausu official Masataka Shirayanagi, they were gone by Wednesday morning when the gaps in the ice drifted. Officials spent about 90 minutes searching for the pod, but couldn’t locate any orcas.

“We believe they were able to escape safely,” Shirayanagi said, via the Associated Press.

The same drone operator also confirmed seeing a pod of around 17 orcas that had been similarly trapped by the ice about a mile away from the original pod, but it’s unclear what became of those whales.

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