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Trapped in a "sassat"

One spring, a biologist tracking polar bears discovered a group of more than two dozen bears gathered around a cluster of swimming pool-sized air holes in the solid sea ice.

The holes turned out to be the only lifelines for some 75 whales that had been trapped more than 30 km / 20 miles from open water by a sudden advance in the ice edge.

Beluga whales are well adapted to cold and ice and are frequently found in areas where pack ice is common. Sometimes, if the ice pack shifts or the water freezes quickly, whales can become stranded without sufficient breathing holes to reach the open sea.

Forced to remain near these breathing holes (called "sassats"), the whales become easy prey for polar bears and Greenland sharks.

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