Audience versions of this page: FamilyOn October 7, 1988, a hunter reported three gray whales trapped in pack ice near Point Barrow, Alaska. He immediately used a chainsaw to enlarge holes in the ice so the whales (all juveniles) could breathe more easily. The ice was too thick for him to cut a path to the open sea of the Arctic Ocean, however.The rescue operation to free the three whales—given the Inupiat names Putu, Siku, and Kanik—was called “Operation Breakthrough.” Operation Breakthrough was ultimately a million-dollar effort that involved cooperation between regional, national, and international organizations. Members of Operation Breakthrough included the indigenous Inupiat communities of northern Alaska, oil companies drilling in Alaska’s North Slope region, the Alaska National Guard, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Greenpeace, and even the Soviet Union.Operation Breakthrough may have worked, although the smallest, weakest whale (Kanik) died before the Soviet icebreakers cleared a path to the ocean. Radio tags were not attached to Putu and Siku, and they were not seen entering the ocean. Many observers assume the whales swam to freedom.Scientists were skeptical of Operation Breakthrough. Whales being stranded and drowning in thick pack ice is a familiar threat in the Arctic. “Speaking strictly from a biological standpoint, (a rescue) doesn't make sense,” said one marine biologist. “That's natural mortality. The ones that make mistakes, the ones that are weaker, are the first that are going to die. And there is a reason for that. That's what keeps the population strong.”
Term Part of Speech Definition Encyclopedic Entry Arctic Noun
region at Earth's extreme north, encompassed by the Arctic Circle.
Encyclopedic Entry: Arctic attach Verb
to fasten or affix.
the act of working together.
to die or suffocate in a liquid.
to make bigger.
environmental organization whose mission is "to use peaceful protest and creative communication to expose global environmental problems and to promote solutions that are essential to a green and peaceful future."
to pursue and kill an animal, usually for food.
water in its solid form.
Encyclopedic Entry: ice icebreaker Noun
powerful ship made for creating paths through thick ice.
at once or quickly.
characteristic to or of a specific place.
international organization Noun
unit made up of governments or groups in different countries, usually for a specific purpose.
Encyclopedic Entry: international organization Inupiat Noun
people and culture native to northern Alaska and northwestern Canada.
animal that is no longer a baby but has not reached sexual maturity.
marine biologist Noun
scientist who studies ocean life.
state or condition of death.
having to do with the government or people of a country.
National Guard Noun
military force controlled by a U.S. state but funded by the federal government and called up as part of the Army during national emergencies.
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Noun
U.S. Department of Commerce agency whose mission is to "understand and predict changes in climate, weather, oceans, and coasts; to share that knowledge and information with others, and; to conserve and manage coastal and marine ecosystems and resources."
someone who watches, or observes.
fossil fuel formed from the remains of marine plants and animals. Also known as petroleum or crude oil.
open sea Noun
part of the ocean not belonging to any country or nation. Also called the high seas.
pack ice Noun
large ice formation in seawater, pushed together by currents and winds.
total number of people or organisms in a particular area.
wireless transmission based on electromagnetic waves.
any area on Earth with one or more common characteristics. Regions are the basic units of geography.
Encyclopedic Entry: region rescue operation Noun
planning and delivering aid to people in an emergency situation.
person who studies a specific type of knowledge using the scientific method.
Soviet Union Noun
(1922-1991) large northern Eurasian nation that had a communist government. Also called the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, or the USSR.
to abandon or leave in a vulnerable position.
always or almost always following limits, rules, or regulations.
caught or held.
final or maximum.