TRAGIC video appears to show a pod of killer whales poking out of chunks of ice desperately trying to catch their breath.
At least 13 orcas have become severely trapped in drift ice off the coast of Hokkaido in north Japan.
The grim footage, aired by Japan’s national broadcaster NHK, showed the whales stuck between a vast sheet of ice near the Shiretoko peninsula, which is a Unesco World Heritage Site famous for wildlife.
Marine expert Seiichiro Tsuchiya was conducting research in the area when he discovered the stricken animals through his drone.
He told the broadcaster: “I saw about 13 killer whales with their heads sticking out of a hole in the ice.
“They seemed to be struggling to breathe, and it looked like they included three or four calves.”
Officials in the town said that thick ice had made it impossible to get near the pod – and they could only watch and hope the drifty ice breaks off allowing the orcas to get out.
“We have no choice but to wait for the ice to break up and for them to escape that way,” one official told NHK.
While other large whales can often spend long periods underwater, orcas can only remain submerged for roughly 15 minutes in extreme conditions.
But the poor animals at this point have spent more than 6 hours being trapped in drift ince, according to BNO News.
The sea near the coast of Hokkaido is blanketed in heavy snow every year during winter.
According to officials, the lack of winds lately has worsened the situation as it meant the ice sheets had barely moved.
In 2005, a similar situation took the lives of several mammals after they were trapped in thick sheets of ice in Shiretoko.
The region, also called “land’s end”, is the lowest point in the northern hemisphere – and the ice sheet can stretch up to 650miles till far east Russia.
Orcas – the killer whales
ORCAS are the largest members of the oceanic dolphin family and are the world’s most power predators
Although they never attack humans, the deadly killers can take down on large groups of whales, hence the name killer.
What makes them a unique marine mammal is that they often hunt in deadly pods and family groups of up to 40 individuals – and feast on fish, penguins seal lions – and even seals.
The carnivores can grow up to 32feet long and weigh up to six tons – and are immediately recognizable by their distinctive black-and-white coloring.
With an average lifespan of about 82 years, orcas can be found from the polar regions to the Equator near cold and coastal areas.