Narwhals trapped off Baffin Island

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An estimated 500 narwhals – the white whales known for their long tusks – are trapped in ice on the northern end of Canada’s Baffin Island and are being killed by the local Inuit population, news reports say.

The narwhals, which are not considered endangered (although a recent study says they will be severely threatened by climate change) are reportedly breathing through cracks in the ice that are slowly closing. The closest open water is 30 miles away.

According to the news agency AFP, local hunters are allowed to harvest only 130 whales each year for food. But Canadian Division of Fisheries and Oceans department spokesman Keith Pelley told the news outlet that “It’s unlikely the animals are going to survive the winter, so the hunters have been given authorization to cull them.”

The Humane Society of the U.S. says that Canada should send Coast Guard icebreakers to cut a path to the sea to allow the whales to swim free. It’s unknown how the whales became trapped.