Foreign Policy Blogs

100 Beluga Whales Trapped off Chukotka

Belugas trapped in Northern Canada.

Off the east coast of Chukotka’s peninsula, winter has come hard and fast, freezing parts of the Bering Strait. Fifteen miles south of the village of Yanrakynnot in the Sinyavinsky Strait, 100 beluga whales are trapped in the ice. Hunters have reported that they are in two polynyas and are currently able to breathe freely. However, food and clean water will soon run out, and the whales will likely die of exhaustion or starvation if the ice is not soon broken up.

Roman Kopin, governor of Chukotka, has written letters to the Ministry of Transport and the Ministry of Emergency Situations requesting an icebreaker to aid the beluga whales. He suggested the marine rescue boat Ruby as a possible source of salvation for the whales. It is a couple of days away, busy helping a Korean cargo ship Oriental Angel, which has run aground on the Gulf of Anadyr. All of its 90 crew members managed to escape on inflatable boats, but there are still 1,100 gallons of flammable liquid onboard the ship. Meanwhile, Chukotka authorities are busy trying to find out how far away the nearest source of clean water is from the whales.

Yanrakynnot, marked by a red "X."

Beluga whales, which are not endangered, occasionally become trapped within the ice, but it is rare that humans discover the incidents in time to help save the animals. The reasons for why they become trapped range from sudden severe weather to disorientation. In 1986, an icebreaker off Chukotka rescued dozens of trapped belugas. Yet in 2006, when somewhere between 20 and 80 belugas were trapped within the frozen Husky Lakes south of Tuktoyaktuk, the local Inuvialuit decided to hunt them. Though they normally swim out of the lakes and back to the ocean before the freeze-up, a storm had suddenly frozen the waterway. The length and depth of the lakes, which form a 25-mile chain up to 100 feet deep in parts, made rescue impossible. The belugas only had one breathing hole, around which the Inuvialuit stood to harpoon the whales and pull out their bodies. Since the belugas likely would have died anyway, it was decided that it would be more humane to kill them quickly – a “mercy kill” – and make use of their meat, which can sustain Inuvialuit families through the winter. The local government paid hunters $79,000 to kill 39 of the trapped whales.

The following year, 80 beluga whales were similarly entrapped in the same place. However, the government decided to neither try to rescue them nor kill them, instead trying to see what effect it would have on beluga whales the following year. Paul Voudrach, chairman of the Tuktoyaktuk hunters and trappers committee, said, ”When they die in the Husky Lakes… these other whales will maybe not come back to the area, because death is in the area.”

What happens in Chukotka will depend on how far away the nearest source of open water is and how quickly the Ruby can get to the site of the trapped whales. In any case, the entrapment of the belugas and the grounding of the Oriental Angel show how dangerous the Arctic can be for animals and humans alike.

News Links

“Belugas trapped in icy Arctic waters at risk of death,” CNN

“Operation resumes to rescue South Korean trawler in Chukotka,” Voice of Russia

 

 

“Hunters harvest whales trapped in ice,” MSNBC

“No intervention on trapped Belugas in Husky Lakes,” CBC

 
  • Jacqueline Unangst

    How much money, contributions would be necessary to pay for a rescue? I am sure there are enough people who would be willing to make contributions to such a cause. We could free these intelligent beings. It is inhumane to let them die and environmentally irresponsible, if not criminal to kill them off as an act of “mercy”.
    Jacqueline

    • Kim

      Agreed!! Jacqueline

    • Animalsmatter101

      THEY NEED HELP AND WE CAN HELP..

  • A

    As much as I love animals, sometimes I think humans just have to step back and let nature take its course. Ever heard of Darwin’s law?

    • Katrina

      I get that sometimes we have to let nature take its course, but when it comes to something that we can make a difference to help our planet and innocent animals who we have the means to help, we need to. The only times I don’t think its right for us to step in is when we really have no control of what is happening, example when a lion is hunting a young antelope. Just saying….

  • Rachel

    Actually Beluga whales are on the endangered list!

  • ubetmom2

    How beautiful are they? I cannot imagine letting something so wonderful just die. I say, spend what needs to be spent to save these beautiful whales. I would donate and I have nothing. To the person that says “Let nature take it’s course”. I say let nature take it’s course with you!!!.

  • L

    From a conservation perspective, the beluga is considered “near threatened” by the International Union for Conservation of Nature; however the subpopulation from the Cook Inlet in Alaska is considered critically endangered and is under the protection of the United States’ Endangered Species Act.[2][4] – - -Wikipedia

    Was directed to this article via discovery news, they cited an example where 2500 hundred whales were trapped, 2000 were rescued but 500 were killed for food…500!!! Surely 500 of a nearly endangered species hurts the population!

  • thebackgroundartiste

    I think the lives of 100 living, breathing ,beautiful creatures should be worth more than 1,100 gallons of flammablr liquid and a boat.

    • Animalsmatter101

      I WISH WE ALLL COULD COME TOGETHER AND HELP!

  • 57nomad

    This is obviously a photoshop fraud and I’ll tell you why. The polar ice is receding at an unstoppable rate due to man made global warming and the Arctic ice has practically disappeared altogether, low lying Pacific islands are being swallowed up by rising sea levels (due to melting ice, that’s how come it’s obvious the whole story is a hoax) except for the island of Guam which is in danger of capsizing (a different thing but slightly related). At this point, the only hope is Al Gore.

    These are trained beluga whales from some corporate marine amusement park, quite obviously, and when all the facts are known, the Koch brothers, Dick Cheney, Halliburton, and rogue CIA agents will be revealed to be involved in a hideous conspiracy. The Russian icebreakers are mere pawns in a Putin/Bush plot. There’s oil right under the very spot where the whales are ‘trapped’ and anyone who can’t see this is just another stupid Fox News watcher.

    • me

      you watch too much south park…

      • 57nomad

        ………or, could it be that you don’t watch enough???

    • tacy75

      I believe in global warming just like any other educated person and I def love Al and south park but you need to do a lil more research an a lil less conspiracy theorizing. There is record ice melting but not all the ice has melted, and there is going to be freezing and refreezing of water that far up north. Try not to be so closed minded. When you talk this way, saying fox watchers are stupid, you are being just as bad as the ppl you’re pointing the finger at. Don’t make us liberals look bad, it just gives the Glenn Becks of the world more ammunition against us.

  • Dr Millgram

    Frankly they should use the protein. There is no guarantee they would survive were an icebreaker to break a rout or if villagers were paid to keep the hole open.

  • diane

    Where is the help, it has been days and days and just talk about an icebreaker coming to the rescue??? I agree with many others just ask for donations to pay and they will come. Just do something!

  • diane

    12/24/11 It has been ten or more days now and very little has been done. I can’t even find an update more than three days old . Last update said bad weather is slowing down the rescue that was three days ago. I thought Putin was an enviromentalist??? How long do they have to suffer in their trapped hell hole?

    • Mia Bennett

      Hi Diane,

      I just posted an update on my blog. Thanks for reading!

      Mia

      • anna

        Dear Max,

        your a great boy

  • Holly

    These whales must have perished. You see nothing about them any longer. Very sad.

Author

Mia Bennett
Mia Bennett

Mia Bennett is pursuing a PhD in Geography at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). She received her MPhil (with Distinction) in Polar Studies from the University of Cambridge's Scott Polar Research Institute, where she was a Gates Scholar.

Mia examines how climate change is reshaping the geopolitics of the Arctic through an investigation of scientific endeavors, transportation and trade networks, governance, and natural resource development. Her masters dissertation investigated the extent of an Asian-Arctic region, focusing on the activities of Korea, China, and Japan in the circumpolar north. Mia's work has appeared in ReNew Canada, Water Canada, FACTA, and Baltic Rim Economies, among other publications.

She speaks French, Swedish, and is learning Russian.

Follow her on Twitter @miageografia

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