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Soviet Icebreaker Reaches Trapped White Whales

February 23, 1985

MOSCOW (AP) _ A Soviet icebreaker reached more than 1,000 white whales trapped in a strait of the Bering Sea, but the crew was doubtful the whales could follow the ship to safety, the Communist Party newspaper Pravda reported today.

A separate newspaper report today in Rural Life (Selskaya Zhizn) said about 40 whales died despite efforts by workers from the nearby Chukotskiy Peninsula to feed the animals and keep several areas free of ice.

The whales were first reported trapped Jan. 29. The official news agency Tass said the Soviet icebreaker ″Moskva″ began a rescue operation on Feb 7.

Pravda said the icebreaker reached the whales today, but that some ice had closed in behind the ship. It said the crew was trying to determine how to get the whales to follow the ship’s path back out to open sea.

″The sailors are doubtful,″ Pravda said.

Selskaya Zhizn reported workers from a fur trapping collective on the Chukotskiy Peninsula were using tractor-towed sledges to haul frozen fish to feed the whales, but that about 40 of the creatures had died.

Pravda quoted Alfred Berzin, chief of the whale studies laboratory of the Pacific Scientific Research Institute of the Fishing Industry and Oceanography, as saying he wasn’t certain the rescue attempt would succeed.

″These whales, of course, are easily frightened, but at the same time they are peaceful and in natural conditions they freely swim alongside ships,″ Berzin was quoted as saying.

He said white whales are accustomed to Arctic conditions and might be able to make their way to freedom by breathing through the thin ice openings. He said the whales usually must surface for air every 60 to 90 seconds.

″Who knows?″ Berzin said. ″Maybe they will follow the trail of the icebreaker.″

Pravda said the captain of the ″Moskva,″ A. Kovalenko, reported extreme difficulty in breaking open some sections of the path toward the trapped whales. He said that at one point, the ship advanced only 200 yards in four hours.

None of the reports said exactly how far the whales might have to follow the icebreaker to be considered free.

Pravda said aircraft from the nearby port of Provideniy helped guide the ship through the ice to the trapped whales.

An earlier report in the government newspaper Izvestia said the whales became ensnared in the ice after following a large shoal of Arctic fish into the shallow waters of the Strait of Senyavin.

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