The whales broke free once the water opened up around the area following Wednesday night's strong winds, Tommy Palliser, the village leader, told a local newspaper.
“The winds certainly make a lot of difference in terms of the ice conditions,” he explained.
The pod of trapped whales was spotted by locals on Tuesday, a day after the bay froze. Later on, a video of the 12 whales taking turns to breath went viral on the internet calling international attention on the scene.
The natural escape of the orcas came as a pleasant surprise to the villagers of Inukjuak who had already been told by the government that rescue ships were too far away from their location to help.
Fearing that the whales' breathing hole was getting smaller due to cold temperatures, the villagers were already making plans to launch a manual rescue operation. On Wednesday night they planned to enlarge the existing hole, and create a second one using chainsaws and drills, (just like Drew Barrymore did in her movie, Big Miracle).
Fortunately, the impromptu rescue operation wasn't necessary.
“It’s certainly good news, that’s good news for the whales,” Palisser said. “We certainly had our prayers with them last night during our meeting.”
According to the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, incidents involving mammals trapped under ice aren't uncommon in the north. In fact, a veterinarian affiliated to Quebec's mammal emergency network said sea ice is known as a habitual death cause for orcas.