A community in Quebec’s Far North is callingÂ for outside help to free about a dozen killer whales trapped under a vastÂ stretch of sea ice – much like the real-life 1988 scenario in Alaska that wasÂ portrayed by Drew Barrymore in the film Big Miracle.
Locals in Inukjuak said the mammals haveÂ gathered around a single hole in the ice – slightly bigger than a pickup truck -Â in a desperate bid to get oxygen.
Mayor Peter Inukpuk urged the CanadianÂ government on Wednesday to send an icebreaker as soon as possible to crack openÂ the ice and help them find open water.
The Department of Fisheries and Oceans saidÂ it is sending officials to assess the situation.
‘Fisheries and Oceans Canada is assessing theÂ situation and are exploring every possible option, but will only be in aÂ position to determine what – if anything – can be done once our specialistsÂ arrive on site,’ spokesman Frank Stanek said in a statement.
A hunter first spotted the pod of about aÂ dozen trapped whales on Tuesday at the hole, which is on the eastern shore ofÂ the Hudson Bay. Inukjuak is about 1,500 kilometers (900 miles) north ofÂ Montreal.
Dozens of villagers made the one-hourÂ snowmobile ride on Tuesday to see the unusual spectacle. They snappedÂ photosÂ and shot video footage of the killer whales surfacing in theÂ opening – and evenÂ thrusting themselves skyward while gasping for air.
Mr Inukpukbelieves the sudden drop in temperatureÂ recently caught the orcas off guard, leaving them boxed in under the ice.
He added: ‘It appears from time to time thatÂ they panic.
‘Other times they are gone for a long time,Â probably looking for another open space, which they are not able toÂ find.’
Locals said the killer whales were seenÂ thrusting themselves skyward while gasping for air.
One woman who made the journey to the gap inÂ the ice said even a curious polar bear approached the hole amid the commotion.
Siasie Kasudluak said the bear was shot by aÂ local hunter for its meat.
Martha Asudluak, 21, hitched a rideÂ on aÂ snowmobile Wednesday morning to go out to see them and got to about three metresÂ from the water’s edge.
She told Canada’s CBC news:Â ‘I saw the big head popping out of the waters … I couldn’t believe what I wasÂ seeing.
‘They kind of looked like they needed help.Â They’re sharing this small little hole. They were probablyÂ searching for a wayÂ to go out, but at the moment they have no otherÂ choice but to stay thereÂ because it’s all ice – all over.’
Kasudluak said the hole appeared toÂ beÂ shrinking in the freezing temperatures. Inukpuk believes the suddenÂ drop inÂ temperature recently caught the orcas off guard, leaving themÂ boxed in underÂ the ice.
In 1988, three gray whales became packedÂ under ice in the Beaufort Sea near Point Barrow in northern Alaska.
Local residents tried to free the mammals butÂ were unsuccessful.