(NEW YORK) — A pod of 10 orcas appears to be trapped by drift sea ice in Japan’s main northern island of Hokkaido, according to a report from Japanese public broadcaster NHK on Tuesday.
The fate of the killer whales remains uncertain as local officials from the island’s eastern town of Rausu tell NHK, that due to the ice flows, they have no choice but to wait for the ice to break up naturally.
“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.
The trapped orcas were first spotted by a local fisherman Tuesday morning, who alerted Japan Coast Guard officials, according to NHK.
On Tuesday, Wildlife Pro LLC shared drone footage, filmed by Seiichiro Tsuchiya, of the trapped killer whales on Facebook where viewers can see the orcas bobbing their heads in and out of the icy water. Tsuchiya says the orcas appeared to be struggling to breathe and are unable to swim free.
“I saw about 13 killer whales with their heads sticking out of a hole in the ice,” Tsuchiya told NHK. “They seemed to be struggling to breathe, and it looked like they included three or four calves.”
A similar incident happened in Rausu in 2005, according to NHK, where nine orcas reportedly died after being trapped in drift ice.
That same year, Shiretoko Peninsula, off the coast of Rausu, was named a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2005 due to its abundant wildlife.
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