Trapped by Ice: Nature's Payback to Whale Hunters in Japan?
February 7, 2024 - Reading time: 5 minutes
A group of at least 10 killer whales has been trapped by sea ice off the coast of Hokkaido, Japan's northernmost island, according to a statement from NHK, Japan's public broadcaster. The trapped orcas were initially spotted by a local fisherman, prompting concern from officials in the coastal town of Rausu, who have expressed their inability to conduct a rescue operation.
Authorities in Rausu have stated that their only option is to wait for the ice to naturally break apart, allowing the whales a chance to escape. The situation was brought to the attention of the Rausu Coast Guard Station by a local fisherman who observed one of the whales struggling near the shoreline, caught in drifting ice.
Wildlife Pro LLC, a local wildlife organization, captured drone footage showing the whales in a narrow opening among the ice floes. The organization, which was conducting marine research at the time, shared the footage on Facebook with a statement describing the scene. According to an employee of Wildlife Pro LLC who recorded the video, approximately 13 killer whales were seen, including three or four calves, all appearing to struggle for breath through a hole in the ice.
The area's lack of wind has contributed to the ice remaining in place, trapping the orcas. Hokkaido's coast is known for its sea ice every winter, representing the lowest latitude sea ice in the world. However, the extent of this ice has been decreasing in recent years, a trend attributed to the accelerating pace of global warming.
This incident is not the first of its kind; in 2005, a similar situation resulted in the death of a group of killer whales trapped in drift ice off the coast of Rausu, as reported by NHK through statements from town officials.
David Lintott is the Editor-in-Chief, leading our team of talented freelance journalists. He specializes in covering culture, sport, and society. Originally from the decaying seaside town of Eastbourne, he attributes his insightful world-weariness to his roots in this unique setting.