MOSCOW -- The icebreaker Moscow cut a channel through a wall of ice to free more than 1,000 white whales imprisoned in a shallow strait between Alaska and northern Siberia, an Isvestia correspondent said Friday.
'The rescue operation is being carried out successfully.
The ice breaker is leading the whales to the open sea,' said Rafail Bikmukhametov, a reporter for the official Communist Party newspaper.
Bikmukhametoiv is reporting on the rescue from Magadan, 2,000 miles from the Senyanin Strait where the animals have been trapped since late January.
'The icebreaker is clearing a channel through the ice. We hope this operation will be over tomorrow,' he said in a telephone interview.
He said it was the icebreaker's second attempt to free the huge herd of white whales -- also known as beluga whales and polar dolphins.
More than 1,000 of the huge mammals were cut off from the open sea last month by a wall of ice created by constant easterly winds that howled from Alaska across the strait to the barren Siberian coast.
He estimated that 40 of the whales had died since the ice wall formed and trapped them in the shallow strait, located only about 75 miles from U.S. land.
Tass, the official Soviet news agency, reported the icebreaker Moscow was called into service Feb. 6 to smash the ice blockade. The rescue operation, Tass said, was being supervised by a team of sea mammal specialists aboard the Moscow.
Helicopters have dropped food -- fresh fish -- to the trapped whales while the Moscow worked to open a channel for their escape. Dubbed 'Operation Beluga,' the rescue effort has cost the Soviet government 70,000 rubles -- about $80,000 -- for the use of the icebreaker alone, Bikmukhametov said.