Kasco Marine won’t be starring in Universal Studio’s upcoming movie “Big Miracle” alongside Drew Barrymore but they did play a part in attempting to save three gray whales trapped underneath the ice in the northernmost inhabited place on the earth – Point Barrow, Alaska.
The large mammals were discovered by local Eskimo hunter, Roy Ahmaogak, on October 7, 1988. Roy and fellow villagers used a chainsaw to cut blocks of ice two feet thick in an attempt to create a path to open water. Their efforts were tireless as ice kept reforming in the harsh Arctic conditions. A heavy-lift helicopter from the Alaska National Guard was brought in to create larger holes in the ice (anywhere from 10-20 feet in diameter) with a 5 ton hammer. While these breathing holes were larger than initial attempts, it was still difficult to keep them open.
The story reached Anchorage a week after their discovery and soon after the rest of the world was aware of the challenge – getting the whales to open water nearly 7 miles away. Kasco Marine reacted by sending their deicers and personnel to the area to help keep the ice from forming. Local officials were skeptical that their units would make a difference but Kasco was convinced they could help. They mounted their 3/4 HP deicer on a horizontal float mount to circulate the water and prevent it from freezing. Despite -30° conditions, their deicers kept the water ice free allowing the endangered whales to breathe.
While keeping the ice clear was a challenge in and of itself, the real challenge was getting the whales to open water so that they could return to their summer breeding grounds. Rescuers attempted to use an Alaskan Barge to break the ice and clear a path to open water but it had been locked in. As the situation got more serious and the youngest whale was lost to drowning, the US Department of State requested help from the Soviet Union. Nearly twenty days after their discovery, the whales were set free after Soviet ice breakers broke apart miles of thirty feet deep ice. This inspiring story will hit the big screen in February 2012, starring Drew Barrymore and The Office’s John Krasinksi.