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Trapped killer whales freed by shifting ice?

A pod of killer whales, trapped by a sudden freeze since Tuesday, may have found a path to freedom, thanks to warmer weather and winds that shifted the ice floes around the orcas.

Image

Three killer whales surface through a small hole in the ice near Inukjuak, in Northern Quebec in this photo from Tuesday. After two days trapped in the ice, the pod of about 11 killer whales appears to have found a path to the warmer waters of the Atlantic.

Marina Lacasse / The Canadian Press / AP

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About a dozen killer whales trapped under sea ice appeared to be free after the ice shifted, village officials in Canada's remote north said Thursday, while residents who feared they would get stuck elsewhere hired a plane to track them down.

The whales' predicament in the frigid waters of Hudson Bay made international headlines, and locals had been planning a rescue operation with chainsaws and drills before the mammals slipped away.

Tommy Palliser said two hunters from remote Inukjuak village reported that the waters had opened up around the area where the cornered whales had been bobbing frantically for air around a single, truck-sized hole in the ice. Officials said shifting winds might have pushed the ice away.

"It's certainly good news — that's good news for the whales," said Palliser, a business adviser with the regional government.

But fears remained that the whales might have been trapped elsewhere by the ever-moving ice. Some villagers were skeptical the killer whales had escaped harm, so the community hired an airplane to scan the region Thursday for signs of the pod.

Mark O'Connor of the regional marine wildlife board said the aerial search did not locate the orcas, but he noted that large swaths of ice-free water were seen in the area.

"So as far as I could tell, the emergency, for sure, is averted," said O'Connor, the board's director of wildlife management.

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