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 suggested that the pod, which  consists of  two adults and a number of younger whales, could be a single family and that it  was clear they were in trouble.

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.


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