Update From AFP: More than 100 Beluga whales remain trapped between ice floes in the Chukotka region of Russia's Far East as bad weather hampers the rescue operation, the emergencies ministry said Tuesday.
"The weather still prevents a vessel sent to the scene from approaching the zone where the Belugas are trapped," a spokesman of the ministry's Chukotka branch told AFP by telephone.
"We cannot say right now when the rescue operation could start," he added.
Thursday, Dec. 15: The Arctic can be an unforgiving realm, and even its most adept inhabitants at times struggle with the potentially fatal obstacles it places in front of them.
The beluga is a case in point. Like other toothed whales, it uses echolocation, or sonar, to help find its way around; the echolocation of a beluga, however, seems to be particularly finely tuned and adept at finding even the narrowest of cracks and leads in the ice that forms on the sea surface.
Sometimes, however, even that ability is outmatched by the challenges of an Arctic winter. On occasion, ice cover may be so extensive that all the belugas in the area are forced to use the nearest available patch of open water, known as a polynya; as a result, that patch of water can seem positively inundated with bobbing white heads and the exhalation of whale breath. In such cases, the best scenario for the belugas is that other leads open up and they can find their way to food and safety; the worst scenario is that even this oasis either freezes over or becomes a magnet for polar bears, which have been known to take advantage of such circumstances to engage in a kind of feeding frenzy, reaching in and hauling trapped belugas on to the ice.