Rescuers used chain saws to widen a breathing hole for three young whales trapped by ice in shallow Arctic Ocean waters, while a military helicopter was dispatched to fetch an ice-breaking barge to the scene.
The endangered California gray whales, headed south to warmer waters, became trapped more than a week ago about 18 miles northeast of this Inupiat Eskimo village. They were only a few hundred feet offshore in 45 feet of water.The whales Sunday were battered and bleeding from continually bashing into the jagged sea ice, and seemed more sluggish than in previous days, said Ron Morris of the National Marine Fisheries Service.
"Two of their noses are down to bare bone. They've lost all the tissue and skin from where . . . our noses would be," he said. "It would seem that this cannot go on for a long period of time. But I just don't know."
The nearest open water was six or seven miles from the whales on Sunday, but biologists were wary of an onshore wind that could close up leads and the whales' escape route.
The whales have been surfacing for air in two tiny holes in the ice, and rescuers during the weekend labored in freezing temperatures with chain saws to enlarge the breathing holes which were in danger of slamming shut.