Three young California gray whales trapped in ice were battered and bleeding and appeared to be weakening Monday, as a huge military helicopter prepared to tow an ice-breaking barge hundreds of miles and attempt to free them.
Rescue workers were using chain saws to keep open breathing holes in the 6-inch-thick Arctic Ocean ice, but freezing temperatures made the work difficult. The whales became trapped nearly two weeks ago, while migrating south to warmer waters.
“Envision yourself in a hole the size of a manhole cover, having to constantly struggle to stick your head out for air. That’s analogous to what these whales are going through,” said Ron Morris, biologist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s fisheries services who was coordinating the rescue effort from Barrow, near where the whales are trapped.
Meanwhile, Alaska National Guardsmen in a Skycrane helicopter embarked Monday on the last 200 miles of a 1,000-mile mission that began Sunday, when they flew from Anchorage to Prudhoe Bay to borrow an oil company’s ice-breaking barge. The trip was expected to take 25 to 40 hours.