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Belugas trapped in icy Arctic waters at risk of death

By the CNN Wire Staff
updated 12:37 PM EST, Thu December 22, 2011
A young beluga whale pokes its head out of the waters of the White Sea near the Solovetsky Islands in 2008.
A young beluga whale pokes its head out of the waters of the White Sea near the Solovetsky Islands in 2008.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • More than 100 Belugas are trapped in ice floes off the Bering Sea
  • Unless the whales are rescued soon, they could die from suffocation or starvation
  • Local authorities have sought help from Moscow

Moscow (CNN) -- Prisoners in ice, more than 100 Beluga whales in far eastern Russia risk death unless rescued soon.

The flock of gentle ghost-white whales was trapped in ice floes in the Sinyavinsky Strait off the Bering Sea near the village of Yanrakynnot, said a statement from the Chukotka Autonomous Region.

Fishermen reported that the whales were concentrated in two relatively small ice holes, where, for now, they can breathe freely. But the Belugas' chance of swimming back to water is slim due to the vast fields of ice over the strait.

The whales have little food, and the ice floe is increasing, the statement said. They are at risk of rapid exhaustion and, ultimately, death by starvation or suffocation. Trapped whales are also susceptible to predators like polar bears and killer whales.

The Chukotka Autonomous Region government has sought help from federal authorities and asked for an icebreaker to help rescue the Belugas. A rescue tug, Ruby, was in the area helping a Korean cargo ship that ran aground on the southern coast of Chukotka but it would take one and a half days for it to reach the whales, the statement said.

Trapped belugas are a frequent phenomenon in the Arctic waters but are not often detected by people. In Chukotka, the last relatively successful case was recorded in 1986, when an ice-breaker helped free trapped beluga whales.

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