Panicked orcas trapped in Quebec ice

(CBS News) Update: A Canadian village leader says about a dozen killer whales that were trapped under sea ice appear to have reached safety after the floating ice shifted on Hudson Bay.

A race for survival is going on in Canada's frozen North. About a dozen killer whales are trapped under the ice along the eastern shore of Hudson Bay in Inukjuak, Quebec Province, Canada -- far from any possible help.

Quebec community calls for help freeing whales from ice

In the frozen waters, an orca pod is lost, and in distress, struggling to breathe. The mammals, which need oxygen to survive, are sharing a small breathing hole about the size of a pickup truck. The frequency with which the whales are surfacing for air is a sign - experts say that they are panicking.

Whale expert Christian Ramp, a researcher with the Quebec-based Mingan Island Cetacean Study, told Canadian news source CBC, "They seem to breathe very frequently - a sign they're under stress. They're definitely not chill."

The images have caught the eye of local officials. They're now asking the Canadian government to intervene. Nathalie Letendre, a spokeswoman for Canada's Department of Fisheries and Oceans, says the situation is not unusual, but gets attention as videos of the distressed whales go viral. She said, "With the social media, it's just another tool to be more aware of what happens."

The scene is reminiscent of a similar situation almost 25 years ago, when the world turned their eyes to northern Alaska as rescuers were able to free three California grey whales trapped in sea ice for 20 days.

In order to rescue the whales trapped in Quebec, an icebreaker will have to clear a path to open water. Local residents have been traveling an hour on snowmobiles to see this whale of a tale for themselves -- all hoping this whale family gets the help they need.

While no decision on a rescue has been made, any attempt is going prove difficult, mainly because the icebreakers needed to reach the whales are currently too far away. Local residents are banding together and doing what they can to keep the whales small breathing hole open.

For Terrell Brown's full report, watch the video in the player above.

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