Merven Gruben took this photograph of beluga whales swimming in an opening in the Husky Lakes while flying between Inuvik and Tuktoyaktuk on Monday. ((Photo courtesy Merven Gruben))

The acting mayor of Tuktoyaktuk, N.W.T., is frustrated wildlife managers have allowed a group of beluga whales to get trapped in nearby lakes for the second winter in a row.

Merven Gruben told CBC News that at least 40 beluga whales are currently swimming insmall sections of open water on the frozen Husky Lakes, a chain of lakes between Tuktoyaktuk and Inuvik.

The federal Fisheries and Oceans Department and Tuktoyaktuk's hunters and trappers committee have been keeping an eye on the animals since they were first spotted in the lakes in August.

But now, Gruben said, there's no way the whales can escape. That means they will probably drown or starve, he said.

"It's too late. The channels going into that part of the back of the Husky Lakes are all frozen over. They only got little spots of open water there," Gruben said Tuesday.

Last winter, beluga whales were spotted near a narrow channel leading from the Husky Lakes to the Arctic Ocean. They often feed in the lakes during the summer, but usually return to the ocean through the channel and migrate west toward Russia.

LastNovember, a group of local hunters killed about 39 trapped whales. But this year, the hunters and trappers committee decided against any intervention.

"There was an opportunity last month if anybody were to come up with some funds to maybe try to drive them out with boats, kind of herd them out that way," Gruben said. "But that never happened. Apparently nobody has any money."

Gruben said he would like to see the Fisheries and Oceans Department and the hunters and trappers committee prevent the whales from entering the Husky Lakes in the first place, possibly with people scaring them away with boats or an underwater sonar device.