Trapped dolphins perish near Cape Ray

Andrew Robinson
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Three alive as of Monday morning in ‘extremely poor condition’: DFO

There’s a sad ending for a pod of dolphins trapped by ice off the coast of western Newfoundland.

All but three of a pod of white-beaked dolphins trapped by ice near Cape Ray have died, according to fisheries officials.

The Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) reported that all but three of the white-beaked dolphins trapped near Cape Ray were dead as of Monday morning, and the outlook for their survival was grim.

According to Wayne Ledwell of Whale Release and Strandings Newfoundland and Labrador, there were an estimated 30-40 dolphins trapped in the ice, each of them weighing between 500-600 pounds.

“There was pack ice that forced them close to land, and what happens then is the conditions were pretty severe out there as far as wind, and eventually they succumbed to the stress of being in the situation they were in,” said Ledwell. “They panicked and drowned.”

In a statement released to media, DFO said the marine mammals still alive were “in extremely poor condition” and that high winds creating white-out conditions were not helping matters.

DFO said the deaths were likely due to internal injuries resulting from ice pressure and suffocation linked to ice cover. It also cited the physiological consequences of stress.

Commonly referred to as porpoises in this province, the white-beaked dolphins were spotted Sunday close to an area known locally as Northwest Cove. Ledwell said his group was not contacted about the situation until Sunday evening and could not respond to assess the situation until Monday morning.

“It’s a sad event,” he said, noting his group has received calls from foreign countries — Spain, England, Australia, the United States — inquiring about the welfare of the dolphins.

DFO officers were still monitoring the situation Monday. However, DFO suggested it would be unwise to attempt a rescue, as doing so would pose a significant safety risk.

“If DFO determines that a trained professional should attempt to assist a stranded marine animal, it is always undertaken with the utmost caution and with a full understanding of how the animals may respond when under stress,” it said in the statement. “Personal safety is always the first priority.”

Ledwell said the best option for rescuing the dolphins would have been to remove them from the water and transport the dolphins by Ski-Doo to open water — the area in question was reportedly inaccessible by vehicle.

“These are extremely difficult situations to do anything with,” he added. “You’re walking around on ice that’s moving with cold water and cold temperatures.”

As a species, white-beaked dolphins are doing well in Newfoundland and Labrador and can be spotted year-round, Ledwell said.

Given the amount of pack ice building up in coastal waters this winter, he recommends people keep an eye out for trapped marine mammals.

As for the dolphins near Cape Ray, Ledwell expects nature will take care of the carcasses as they sink.

DFO officials said the geography of the Cape Ray area has posed a problem for whales and dolphins in the past. Six blue whales were driven ashore by ice in 1987.

 — With files from The Gulf News

Twitter: @TeleAndrew

Organizations: Department of Fisheries and Oceans, Ski-Doo

Geographic location: Cape Ray, Northwest Cove, Spain England Australia United States Newfoundland and Labrador

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Recent comments

  • Justin
    March 18, 2014 - 07:20

    It's an awful shame; not blaming anyone, things like this happen--but it's still an awful shame. And that area is bad for it... If anyone is in the know about how stuff like this works: Is there anything that can be done to safely alter the geography of that area so things like this don't happen again? The Narrows in St. John's Harbour were widened with dynamite--can something similar be done with this area?