A pod of killer whales that was trapped in drift ice for hours escaped safely

Drone footage captures the whales bobbing up and down in the ice

A pod of killer whales was trapped in drift ice off the coast of Japan has escaped safely, officials confirmed.

The orcas were initially spotted by a local fisherman who reported them on the nearby island of Hokkaido on Tuesday morning.

From the coast, a dozen whales could be seen bobbing up and down in a tiny gap surrounded by drift ice, about one kilometre offshore.

By the evening, the pod had moved to a different point in the ice, and it was gone by Wednesday morning.

Officials said they believe the killer whales were able to free themselves from the drift ice as gaps between them grew.

The footage, captured by a drone flown by a conservationist group and shown on NHK national television and on social media, prompted concern in and outside Japan about the whales’ conditions and pleas for the Japanese government to help.

Although the trapped whales were in Japanese waters, they were not far from an island that is disputed by Japan and Russia.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshimasa Hayashi told reporters that killer whales are not designated as an endangered species in Japan and that officials were monitoring the situation while Japan and Russia communicated over the issue.

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