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Op-Ed: Trapped orcas may not be out of the woods just yet

By Elizabeth Batt     Jan 10, 2013 in Environment
Quebec - Earlier this morning it was reported that up to a dozen orcas trapped in the ice near Inukjuak, Quebec have gone. Now it appears that the orcas may not be out of the woods (or the Hudson Bay) just yet.
Through most of the night contact poured back and forth between Inukjuak Mayor Petah Inukpuk and several colleagues attempting to save the orcas trapped in the ice for several days.
After a conversation this morning with Shari Tarantino of the Orca Conservancy, the mayor declared the whales had left Inujuak and moved on. The mayor told Tarantino:
We are not worldly people, and our education is not like most... Last night there was a new moon, and the currents in the water was activated and caused an opening all the way to open water. The whales are not trapped, and there is no new breathing hole. It is now up to them to survive, but they are indeed, gone.
Adding that he was very touched by the outpouring from everyone and that many were willing to step up to the plate to assist them in this time of need. Tarantino said, "I gave him thanks for caring enough to get the word out, and he chuckled and said, 'you do know that they are a competitor, yes?'. And, that even so, 'they have every right to live as we do'."
A local pilot named Davidee Saumik Inukpuk, has now allegedly reported that the orcas are free of Inukjuak Bay but still have to get through heavy ice in Hudson Bay. Kasco Marine, Inc., a Minnesota company that helped keep two grey whales alive in Alaska with their de-icers back in the 80s are monitoring the situation and are ready to step in with de-icers for the orcas if needed.
The company, featured in the movie Big Miracle offered 20 de-icer units for the whales and planned to fly them in. They have been collaborating with local people over the orcas since they first learned about their dire situation.
Kasko posted this update about an hour ago:
We are getting reports that at least some of the ice is broken. The whales are thought to be freed. They should at least have more breathing room and that would buy more time assuming they are still confined.
Local officials are communicating with us and we remain cautiously optimistic. We remain on standby with equipment and personnel to assist. More aerial surveillance will give additional information.
Video uploaded by Bob Timmons shows the whales have moved on, but cannot confirm that they have fully escaped Hudson Bay ice.
Fisheries and Oceans Canada just released this statement:
The community of Inukjuak has confirmed that winds and tides shifted overnight, opening the ice that had trapped the whales. Two Fisheries and Oceans Canada scientists are en route to this remote community to gather scientific information and work with community members. We will continue to monitor the situation.
It is possible that the orcas may be in another area in Hudson Bay and are not out of the woods yet. At 1:30 PM local time, officials from the town's Municipality, the Nunavik Marine Region Wildlife Board and others, are planning aerial surveillance to seek further confirmation.
12:24 PM MST: Colleague Joy Benson shared this latest update:
Just spoke with Johnny Williams in Mayor Inukpuk's office in Inukjuak. He has not heard back from the pilots. He went on the highest hill and did a quick assessment. The ice is thin but is getting frozen again, as the temperature is minus 42 degrees plus windchill. Should know more by 4:00 pm Quebec time today.
1:15 PM MST: Reported from local pilot Davidee Saumik Inukpuk and Kenneth Rust of Kasko:
Flyover is underway looking for whales to get footage of them in open water.
Rust urged patience and caution:
Please be patient while the we wait on more information. Conserve your energy and keep hopeful. We may have ultimate, confirmed good news, or we may be beginning a new leg of the journey together. I am sure that everyone has the best intentions in releasing information as soon as possible, as well as withholding unconfirmed information to prevent confusion.
2:15 PM MST Pilots have yet to report back to Inukjuak.
Final update 2:59 PM MST:
This just in from Shari Tarantino of the Orca Conservancy:
Spoke to Petah, the mayor who was up in the plane during this ariel survey. One more time ... whales are gone. They saw duck, and a polar bear with two cubs ... no sign of the once trapped orcas. 2.5 hours up in the plane, many open spaces of water for them to not only get out, but also give them the capacity to hunt. And, while things looked pretty frozen, when the currents changed last night, things improved greatly.
Kenneth Rust also spoke with the mayor:
Mayor says they took a twin otter up and covered grid 30 miles by 40 miles. Confirming what scouts found this morning, that a large path and many holes, some the size of football fields, were created. He feels 100% confident that the whales were able to exit the area. He is very greatful to all who stood ready to help with the effort and feels better prepared to address this in the future. Thanks to everyone from the Inukjuak community to the online community for their support.
Davidee Saumik Inukpuk posted the final update of the day and added:
A team of of ice hunters went out far north to check if they are visible in open patches of water but they did not see anything and even the seals are gone, they are saying, since the whales hadnt eaten for quite some time, they probably ate all the seals close by, that's good.
Our Elders are saying there is more open water forming and they are pretty sure they have moved on to safety, patches of water, cracks leading to open water have been spotted and they are sure that they are okay. This is a very good news and the officials are all excited that the whales have reached safety.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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