More than a hundred Beluga whales are trapped in frigid water surrounded by ice floes in the Chukotka region of Russia’s Far East, and risk death unless they are rescued soon, local authorities said.
The flock of gentle whales was trapped in the Sinyavinsky Strait off the Bering Sea near the village of Yanrakynnot, a statement from the Chukotka Autonomous Region said, with local governor Roman Kopin calling for the government to send an icebreaker to the region to try and free them from their soon-to-be icy graveyard.
Local fishermen reported that the whales were concentrated in two relatively small ice holes, where they can at least breathe freely for the time being. But the odds of them being able to swim back out to open water are slim due to the vast fields of ice over the strait.
The statement said the whales risk becoming starved if they cannot be rescued soon. And with the advancement of the ice floes, the space where they are concentrated is growing smaller and smaller.
“Given the lack of food and the speed at which the water is freezing, all the animals are threatened with exhaustion and death,” it added.
A Russian icebreaker was just two days sail away from the area, the Chukotka government noted. It could easily make the trip in time to save the whales, it added.
In Russia, Beluga whales are protected and are only one of a handful of wild animals whose cause has been supported heavily by Russian Prime Minister and nature lover Vladimir Putin. Putin also has a special page on his website dedicated to the Beluga whale.
Besides having little or no food, and the rapid advancement of ice, the Belugas are at risk of attack from hungry polar bears or killer whales in the region as well.
Trapped Belugas are a frequent problem in Arctic waters but are not often detected by people. The last relatively successful case of a Beluga rescue came in 1986, when an icebreaker was deployed to help free them.
Beluga whales can measure 20 feet long and weigh up to 2.5 tons. They can stay underwater for up to 25 minutes before surfacing to breathe. In Russia, they live in the freezing Arctic waters to the north of the Russian Far East as well as in the White Sea and Barents Sea in the northwest of Russia.