Whale scientists rescued from ice-trapped boats in Canadian Arctic

Five people, including two federal scientists conducting Arctic whale research, are safe after they were rescued from two boats that were trapped in ice off the coast of Igloolik, Nunavut.

RCMP say two Department of Fisheries and Oceans researchers and three local guides were rescued by helicopter around 8 p.m. ET Tuesday, about 20 kilometres northeast of Igloolik Island.

The researchers and guides had departed on two boats from Igloolik Point on July 14 to start research on bowhead whales. But on Saturday, the vessels became stuck in the sea ice, according to officials.

After the five people did not return to Igloolik on Sunday as planned, they were reported missing late Monday evening.

Federal defence officials in Trenton, Ont., chartered a private helicopter from Hall Beach, Nunavut — about 70 kilometres south of Igloolik — to rescue the teams and transport them back to Igloolik.

“The helicopter picked all five individuals up off the boats and brought them into town. They’re all in good health,” Ed Zebedee, the Nunavut government’s director of protection services, said Wednesday.

Natalino Piugattuk, one of the local guides on board, told CBC News in Inuktitut that they would have stayed on the boats and waited for the ice to clear out, but they were running short on food.

The boats are still out at sea, but Zebedee said efforts will be made to retrieve them.

“My understanding is that they lashed the boats together because the boats are still trapped in the ice,” he said.

“They’ve activated a whale tracking collar on one of the boats so they can keep track of it, and hopefully eventually recover them once the ice breaks up and moves out.”

The federal researchers are expected to fly out of Igloolik today.

Originally posted July 20, 2011

CBC News

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