In this Tuesday, Jan. 8, 2013 photo provided by Marina Lacasse, killer whales surface through a small hole in the ice near Inukjuak, in Northern Quebec. Mayor Peter Inukpuk urged the Canadian government Wednesday to send an icebreaker as soon as possible to crack open the ice and help the pod of about a dozen orcas find open water. The Department of Fisheries and Oceans said it is sending officials to assess the situation. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Marina Lacasse) MANDATORY CREDIT

A dozen killer whales have been trapped by sea ice in northern Canada. Photo: AP/Marina Lacasse

A dozen killer whales are trapped under a vast stretch of sea ice in northern Canada, while officials try to work out a way to free them.

Locals in Inukjuak, in the far north of Quebec, said the mammals have gathered around a car-sized hole in the ice to get oxygen.

One woman who made the journey to the gap in the ice said even a curious polar bear approached the hole amid the commotion. Siasie Kasudluak said the bear was shot by a local hunter for its meat 

Mayor Peter Inukpuk urged the Canadian government on Wednesday to send an icebreaker as soon as possible to crack open the ice and help them find open water.

In this Tuesday, Jan. 8, 2013 photo provided by Marina Lacasse, people watch as a killer whale surfaces through a small hole in the ice near Inukjuak, in Northern Quebec. Mayor Peter Inukpuk urged the Canadian government Wednesday to send an icebreaker as soon as possible to crack open the ice and help the pod of about a dozen orcas find open water. The Department of Fisheries and Oceans said it is sending officials to assess the situation. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Marina Lacasse) MANDATORY CREDIT

Locals are calling for an ice-breaker to help free the mammals. Photo: AP/Marina Lacasse

The Department of Fisheries and Oceans said it is sending officials to assess the problem.

"Fisheries and Oceans Canada is assessing the situation and are exploring every possible option, but will only be in a position to determine what - if anything - can be done once our specialists arrive on site," spokesman Frank Stanek said in a statement.

A hunter first spotted the pod of about a dozen trapped whales on Tuesday at the hole, which is on the eastern shore of the Hudson Bay. Inukjuak is about 1500 kilometres north of Montreal.

In this Tuesday, Jan. 8, 2013 photo provided by Marina Lacasse, a killer whale surfaces through a small hole in the ice near Inukjuak, in Northern Quebec. Mayor Peter Inukpuk urged the Canadian government Wednesday to send an icebreaker as soon as possible to crack open the ice and help the pod of about a dozen trapped orcas find open water. The Department of Fisheries and Oceans said it is sending officials to assess the situation. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Marina Lacasse) MANDATORY CREDIT

Locked in ... a killer whale surfaces to breathe. Photo: AP/Marina Lacasse

Dozens of villagers made the one-hour snowmobile ride on Tuesday to see the unusual spectacle. They snapped photos and shot video footage of the killer whales surfacing in the opening - and even thrusting themselves skyward while gasping for air.

One woman who made the journey to the gap in the ice said even a curious polar bear approached the hole amid the commotion. Siasie Kasudluak said the bear was shot by a local hunter for its meat.

The trapped orcas appeared to be in distress, but locals were ill-equipped to help out.

In this Tuesday, Jan. 8, 2013 photo provided by Marina Lacasse, killer whales surface through a small hole in the ice near Inukjuak, in Northern Quebec. Mayor Peter Inukpuk urged the Canadian government Wednesday to send an icebreaker as soon as possible to crack open the ice and help the pod of about a dozen trapped orcas find open water. The Department of Fisheries and Oceans said it is sending officials to assess the situation. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Marina Lacasse) MANDATORY CREDIT

It is believed a sudden cold snap caught out the ocean predators. Photo: AP/Marina Lacasse

Ms Kasudluak said the hole appeared to be shrinking in the freezing temperatures.

Mr Inukpuk believes the sudden drop in temperature recently caught the orcas off guard, leaving them boxed in under the ice.

AP