(CNN) — Time is running short for a pack of killer whales trapped by ice near a small Canadian village on Hudson Bay, the town’s mayor said Wednesday.
The 11 whales are confined in a space of about 50 feet by 50 feet, where they use an opening for a breathing hole, Inukjuak Mayor Petah Inukpuk said.
The orcas were discovered Tuesday morning by a northern Quebec seal hunter. The two large and nine smaller killer whales are at least 6 miles (10 kilometers) from open water, Inukpuk said. They appear to be part of a family pack, he said.
The Canadian government is sending experts to the scene Thursday to see whether the orcas can be saved, CNN affiliate CBC reported.
A whale expert told the network that killer whales normally leave the Arctic before ice moves in. No one has seen any that far north in January before, said Christian Ramp, a researcher with the Quebec-based Mingan Island Cetacean Study.
The part of the bay near Inukjuak, which has about 1,500 residents, only froze over in the past few days, the mayor said.
A town meeting was being held Wednesday night.
“By noon tomorrow, we should have a specific plan to serve them,” Inukpuk said. “We’re not just going to watch and see them die away.”
Ideally, an icebreaker would come clear a path for the whales, he said, but crews are a 36-hour trip away.
A spokeswoman for the Department of Fisheries and Oceans told CBC the ships were busy in other parts of the country and the team it is sending will examine the situation and consult with the town on what to do.
If the hole, through which the whales frequently surface and take breaths, freezes over, the orcas will die.
Ramp said ice entrapment is not rare.
“It’s heart-breaking to witness these pictures, but it’s probably occurring more often then we think.”