A team from the Russian Ministry of Emergency Situations saved four orcas, including a pup, stuck in the ice field near the island of Sakhalin. The rescuers spend eight hours freeing the large cetaceans from their icy prison.
It’s a happy ending for this group of orcas. The four cetaceans, including a pup, were trapped for hours in the ice nearly 100 meters from the coast of Sakhalin Island in Eastern Russia.
According to the Russian Ministry of Emergency Situations (Emercon), who was in charge of the dramatic search-and-rescue, this near perilous entrapment most likely occurred during the night of April 19th. In this type of situation, unfortunately increasingly more common thanks to the recent climatic upheavals, the whales typically chase their prey too close to the sharp embankments of the shore. These four whales were heading towards the ocean when they were sandwiched between the rocks and the ice.
Poles, ropes, and exhaustion
This rocky minefield was inaccessible by traditional watercraft—the rescue team arrived at the scene only with the help of a few altruistic local fishermen and their rowboat. Efforts to break the ice blocks with poles and move the orcas with ropes persisted. “But that was not enough,” says the relief organization on the futile first attempt.
Photo: Google Maps
The largest of the whales, measuring more than 23 feet long, remained in critical condition as exhaustion set in. The situation reached a near disastrous climax when the orca became pinned upside down under the ice, forcing the rescue team to act within the three to five minute window before the threat of certain death became a reality. “Three divers entered the water to move the animal towards a more open area, where they could return later,” recounts Denis Ilyinov, head of the mission. “We paid a lot of attention to returning to that whale. Any more stress could have killed it.”
Settling in for the night
Thanks to a clever rope system and the help of winching vehicles, the team succeeded in the forceful relocation of the problematic ice blocks and the creation of a passage for the other three orcas. But the largest of the whales remained imprisoned. Powerless but far from discouraged, the rescuers made the decision to brave the Russian night with the fading whale.
“The rescuers and the volunteers who stayed with the orca during the night covered him with a sheet to reduce heat loss and deflected the ice blocks that could have hurt him,” proclaimed Emercom. “Around 6 AM, local time, the rescue mission was finally complete. The whale was returned to the ocean.” At the end of the day, the whale was deemed courageous and was was rightly renamed…Willy.
Sabrina is a 2nd year at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, VA, USA majoring in Biology and Foreign Affairs. She has volunteered for La Dolphin Connection for more than a year, spending most of her time translating articles from French to English and writing originals in English. Additionally, she was the co-founder and co-president of the Protect Our Dolphins (POD) club at her high school, working to donate money to the Oceanic Preservation Society.