Two once-doomed California gray whales splashed with new life Wednesday as a pair of powerful Soviet icebreakers leading a massive rescue effort bashed through the last frozen barrier to their escape to the open sea.
“The whales are ready to get out of there,” said Cindy Lowry of Greenpeace as the two Soviet icebreaking ships cracked their way through the wall of ice at the edge of the arctic floe trapping the two young giant mammals.The whales, whose dramatic plight has set off an extravagant international rescue effort in the icy arctic, responded by vigorously swimming around their latest breathing hole.
“They are swimming up and down, really energetic,” Lowry said. She said the whales were “so active they were causing waves.”
The 20,241-pound Admiral Makarov, an 11-story icebreaker, and the 13,514-ton Vladimir Arseniev, an icebreaking cargo vessel flying an American flag alongside the hammer and sickle of the Soviet Union, began their attack on the icy ridge Tuesday afternoon.
They moved through the ice with such force that Lowry and another Greenpeace member keeping an all-night vigil beside the whales were afraid the huge icebreakers would plow right into them. But the threat turned out to be illusory.
The Soviets battered their way through the ice until 3 a.m. Alaska Daylight Time (5 a.m. MDT), getting within a half-mile to a mile of the whales.
Other rescue teams planned to fire up the 11-ton one-of-a-kind Archimedean screw tractor sometime after the Alaska sunrise to finish clearing a 16-foot-wide path for the whales to a 220-mile channel that will eventually take them to the open sea. The tractor’s pontoons are equipped with screw-like ridges that cut through the ice.