A community in Quebec’s Far North is calling for outside help to free about a dozen killer whales trapped under a vast stretch of sea ice – much like the real-life 1988 scenario in Alaska that was portrayed by Drew Barrymore in the film Big Miracle.
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.
Mayor Peter Inukpuk urged the Canadian government on 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.
A hunter first spotted the pod of about a dozen trapped whales on Tuesday at the hole, which is on the eastern shore of the Hudson Bay. Inukjuak is about 1,500 kilometers (900 miles) north of Montreal.
Dozens of villagers made the one-hour snowmobile ride on 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.
Mr Inukpukbelieves the sudden drop in temperature recently caught the orcas off guard, leaving them boxed in under the ice.
He added: ‘It appears from time to time that they panic.
‘Other times they are gone for a long time, probably looking for another open space, which they are not able to find.’
Locals said the killer whales were seen 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.
Martha Asudluak, 21, hitched a ride on a snowmobile Wednesday morning to go out to see them and got to about three metres from the water’s edge.
She told Canada’s CBC news: ‘I saw the big head popping out of the waters … I couldn’t believe what I was seeing.
‘They kind of looked like they needed help. They’re sharing this small little hole. They were probably searching for a way to go out, but at the moment they have no other choice but to stay there because it’s all ice — all over.’
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.
In 1988, three gray whales became packed under ice in the Beaufort Sea near Point Barrow in northern Alaska.
Local residents tried to free the mammals but were unsuccessful.