Polar Biology

, Volume 40, Issue 7, pp 1467–1473 | Cite as

Review of killer whale (Orcinus orca) ice entrapments and ice-related mortality events in the Northern Hemisphere

  • Kristin H. WestdalEmail author
  • Jeff W. Higdon
  • Steven H. Ferguson
Short Note


In January 2013, a group of killer whales (Orcinus orca) was discovered in an ice entrapment in eastern Hudson Bay, Canada. The whales escaped the entrapment after several days, which ended the discussion on response options. The event did, however, highlight the need for a better understanding of killer whale entrapments to guide future responses. We conducted a literature review of ice entrapment and ice-induced stranding mortality events for killer whales in the Northern Hemisphere and identified 17 events dating from 1840 to 2013, ranging from a single whale to more than 20. Ice entrapments occurred in both pack ice (mobile ice) and fast ice (ice which forms and remains fast along the coast), with most records (70 %) coming from midlatitude regions with seasonal ice cover (e.g., Sea of Okhotsk and eastern Canada). Most events resulted in mortality, and time to mortality depended on ice conditions with whales surviving longer in fast-ice entrapments, where ice is more stable than in mobile ice.


Entrapment Killer whales Orcinus orca Rescue Mortality Sea ice 



We thank Sam Turgeon and Blair Dunn (DFO) for their help in organizing and hosting community meetings in Inukjuak and their helpful comments and details on the entrapment; Yaanie Alayco, Akulivik, Nunavik, for reporting the stranded killer whale discovered near the community; DFO and Oceans North Canada for funding to travel to Inukjuak in 2013; and M.P. Poulsen and J.S. McCroskey for assistance with old Danish to English translations. The manuscript was improved through the reviews of three anonymous reviewers.

Supplementary material

300_2016_2019_MOESM1_ESM.pdf (80 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (PDF 80 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Oceans North CanadaWinnipegCanada
  2. 2.Higdon Wildlife ConsultingWinnipegCanada
  3. 3.Fisheries and Oceans CanadaWinnipegCanada

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