Point Barrow, Alaska — Two Soviet ships flying US and Soviet flags worked yesterday to free two California gray whales imprisoned in ice for nearly three weeks. ``The whales seemed to be doing fine,'' Rear Adm. Sigmund Petersen of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said Wednesday morning. ``It's like they expected something to be happening.''
Rescuers had one of their best days Tuesday as the Soviet ice-breaker plowed through the last significant barrier to freedom - a huge pressure ridge that was a jumble of ice blocks as big as small houses.
The 440-foot ice-breaker Admiral Makarov and the cargo ship Vladimir Arsenev arrived in the area Tuesday and quickly went to work after being briefed on a rescue plan drafted by US scientists.
``We shall commence just now,'' skipper Sergei Fedorovich Reshetov said after the meeting.
Meanwhile, chain saw-wielding Eskimos cut a detour for the whales to swim around shallow water through which the animals had refused to pass.
By cutting breathing holes in deeper water away from the shoal, the Eskimos were able to lure the whales about two miles from the place where they were found Oct. 7. A third whale disappeared Friday and was believed dead.