Nine blue whales have died after they became trapped in shifting ice patches off the southwest coast of Newfoundland.

The Department of Fisheries and Oceans is calling the deaths a massive loss to marine life.

It is not known how many of the endangered animals are currently in the Atlantic population, but Parks Canada says between 20 and 105 are spotted each year in the Gulf of St. Lawrence.

“Other entrapments have been one animal, two animals, sometimes up to four animals, so nine is unusual,” said Jack Lawson, a scientist with Fisheries and Oceans.

Ice entrapments are typical in every season, but this year, denser pack ice is causing problems, said Wayne Ledwell of the Whale Release and Strandings Group.

In a similar incident three weeks ago, approximately 40 white-beaked dolphins died in heavy ice off the shore near Cape Ray.

“The pack ice is almost like a living, moving beast,” Ledwell said. “And in the gulf this year, especially, it’s sort of been bottlenecked in there.”

Blue whales, which are the largest animals on earth, begin to travel to waters off Newfoundland’s coast during the springtime, along with dolphins, porpoises and other marine life.

But the feeding animals can get stuck with no way to escape if ice starts to shift. If the whales can’t reach the ocean’s surface, they are not able to breathe.

Lawson said there is a risk that there will be more animal entrapments as the thick ice begins to break up later in the spring.

“I’m hoping not, but it’s the nature of the environment we’re in here,” Lawson said.

With a report from NTV News’ Christina Marshall-Jeenes