Killer whales shown packed together and gasping for air in a tiny ice hole off Japan have been able to escape, according to officials.
About a dozen orcas were spotted bobbing up and down about half a mile from Rausu in the northeastern coast of Hokkaido.
Officials said a rescue would be difficult as the ice was too thick, but when they returned on Tuesday evening it appeared that the pod had moved north.
By Wednesday the whales were no longer in the area and it is believed they managed to free themselves, according to Rausu official Masataka Shirayanagi.
The whales were spotted by a marine life expert who was researching the local sea lion population.
A lack of wind in recent days had meant the mass of drift ice had barely moved, trapping the pod in a tiny gap.
Drone footage by a conservation group was shown on national TV and sparked pleas for help, including a call for an icebreaker ship to rescue them.
The whales were in Japanese waters but close to an island whose ownership is disputed by Russia and Japan.
Chief cabinet secretary Yoshimasa Hayashi said officials had communicated with Russia over the whales, but added that orcas are not an endangered species in Japan.
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