OTTAWA (Reuters) - Canadian hunters in a remote Arctic community have started killing a large number of narwhals -- small, white whales best known for their long tusks -- that are trapped by ice, a federal official said on Friday.
The whales -- which number between 100 and 200 -- are stuck near Bylot Island, close to the tiny town of Pond Inlet on the northern end of Baffin Island. The nearest open water is 30 miles away.
The narwhals are now breathing through small cracks in the ice and face a slow death.
“The community has started a humane harvest to take these animals before they perish,” said Keith Pelley, a spokesman for the Department of Fisheries and Oceans.
The hunters, using rifles and harpoons, should be finished by the weekend, he added.
While narwhals had become trapped by ice in the past, it was unusual for so many to be stuck in the same place at the same time, Pelley said. The narwhal population in the area was in good condition, he said.
Narwhal’s tusks can stretch up to 10 feet. Excluding the tusk, an adult animal is between 13 to 16 feet long and can weigh up to 3,500 lb (1,600 kg).
Reporting by David Ljunggren; Editing by Frank McGurty