Trapped Whales Set Free

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Trapped Whales Set Free

CNN Television Report by Greg Lefevre, Oct. 1988 - Modified by F. Meehan

After two weeks stranded in ice on Alaska's frozen north coast, two California gray whales are free in the open sea and heading along their migratory route. On their last day of captivity the whales bobbed up and down in the holes carved for them in the ice. Scientists say the whales appeared enthusiastic and keen to move on.

(MAN SPEAKING) "They're just swimming really quickly. They look excited as if they know something's going to happen."

As Soviet ice breakers crashed through the Arctic ice to make escape channels for the whales, local Inuit people were out cutting more breathing holes. Scientists say the whales used the breathing holes to get as close to the ships as they could. At the end of each breathing episode, the whales would dive and then rise to spout from a new ice hole, closer to the open sea.

(MAN SPEAKING) "The Russian icebreaker had arrived, the whales were on the move and the wind was blowing the right way, so everything turned out well. Satellite images show a large amount of open water southwest of here, which is the direction they should be heading, so I feel very optimistic. I think if they have any sense at all they'll stop off in the northern Bering sea for a while and take a snack."

The whales are making this journey without one of their original group, the third whale, the smallest and the one that perhaps was ill, which failed to surface last Friday. It was presumed drowned. The three were discovered by local Inuit about 2 1/2 weeks ago, at a tiny hole in the ice struggling to breathe. Within days their fate became a worldwide cause, bringing hundreds of volunteers. If the rest of the whales' migration goes according to plan, they should manage about 130 kms a day, which will put them in Baja California around the end of January, still in time for the winter season.

© 1998 Cable News Network, Inc.