A pod of at least 10 killer whales appears to be trapped by sea ice off Japan’s northern island of Hokkaido, public broadcaster NHK reported on Tuesday.
Officials from the coastal town of Rausu said they have no way to rescue the orcas, which were first spotted by a local fisherman, NHK reported.
“We have no choice but to wait for the ice to break up and for them to escape that way,” a Rausu official told NHK.
A local fisherman contacted the Rausu Coast Guard Station on Tuesday morning to report seeing a killer whale stuck by the ice drift not far from the shore, NHK reported citing the local coast guard.
Drone footage shared Tuesday by a local wildlife organization, Wildlife Pro LLC, shows the whales struggling in a small gap between ice flows. The organization said it encountered the whales while doing marine research, according to a statement on Facebook.
“I saw about 13 killer whales with their heads sticking out of a hole in the ice,” a Wildlife Pro LLC employee, who filmed the video, told NHK. “They seemed to be struggling to breathe, and it looked like they included three or four calves.”
A lack of wind in the area has meant the ice trapping the orcas has remained stagnant.
Sea ice hugs the coast of Hokkaido every winter, and is the lowest latitude sea ice in the world, but over recent years levels have been declining as global warming accelerates.
In 2005, a group of killer whales were also trapped in drift ice off the coast of the town and later died, according to NHK, citing Rausu town officials.