Pod of 12 Killer Whales Trapped in Quebec Ice Likely to Die Without Human Intervention

“The breathing hole is getting smaller and smaller, their whole body jumps up for air,” said a witness.
Two of the stranded 18 killer whales surface for air in northern Quebec. (Photo: Clement Rousseau / Facebook )
Jan 9, 2013· 2 MIN READ
David Kirby has been a professional journalist for 25 years. His third book, Death at Seaworld, was published in 2012.

UPDATE (January 10, 2013): Click here to find out what happened to the trapped whales!

A pod of up to 12 wild killer whales have become trapped in the ice off the coast of Quebec. So far, the Canadian government has done very little to help the animals, who could all perish without rapid assistance from humans.

Residents of the village of Inukjuak, an outpost on Hudson Bay in far northern Quebec, first reported seeing the trapped orcas on Monday. They contacted officials at Canada’s Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO), but so far it is not clear what action, if any, the government will take.

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Local resident Johnny P. Williams told the Canadian Broadcasting Company that he checked in on the whales, who seem to be having trouble getting enough air to breath.

“It is difficult to go near the ice since the waves from the whales are making it impossible,” he told the CBC, speaking in Inuktitut. “The breathing hole is getting smaller and smaller. Their whole body jumps up for air.” Apparently, the orcas managed to kill a polar bear that had wandered too close to their breathing hole.

Williams said a plane was dispatched to fly over the site (see video) and try to determine the number of orcas trapped, and their distance from open water. The distance is great, he said. It will take an icebreaker to clear a path for their escape.

CTV News is reporting that Canadian officials are still undecided what to do.

Since then, an informal online campaign has sprung up urging DFO to take action and save the whales, including on this Facebook page. Meanwhile, people in the wild orca activist community tell TakePart they are hopeful something will be done, though they have their reservations.

Suzanne Chisholm, who co-authored the upcoming book The Lost Whale, about a stranded young orca on Vancouver Island, BC, said that, sadly, “it’s hard to be optimistic about DFO doing something to help these orcas. I’ve been told repeatedly by DFO personnel: 'We don’t have a mandate to rescue marine mammals.' In the past they missed opportunities to help an orca. Maybe this time they can step up and do something positive.”

Susan Berta, who runs The Orca Network along with her husband Howard Garrett, said they had emailed a friend and colleague who does research in the area, as well as other contacts. One man called them from Quebec, seeking help, she said. The man took hundreds of photos of the trapped orcas.

“We've been trying to spread the word, knowing it's getting late,” Berta told TakePart.

She drew the obvious comparison to Big Miracle, the 2012 movie about a family of gray whales trapped in a breathing hole, who are set free by the good people of an Alaskan town.

“Does anyone know Drew Barrymore?” Berta asked about the film’s star. “Maybe she could rally some money and PR for this effort.”

If you don’t know Drew Barrymore, but would still like to help, please visit this Facebook page, and be sure to contact DFO (Quebec Region) by phone at (418) 648-2239 or e-mail: info@dfo-mpo.gc.ca and urge them to seek a solution.

UPDATE: CBC News reported late Wednesday morning, January 9, that DFO “is sending a team of experts, who are expected to arrive in Inukjuak on Thursday.”