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Dolphins remain trapped by ice in Heart’s Delight

Residents of Heart’s Delight and visitors have spent a lot of time on the wharf at the community’s harbour this week, where six or seven white-beaked dolphins remain trapped by pack ice.
Residents of Heart’s Delight and visitors have spent a lot of time on the wharf at the community’s harbour this week, where six or seven white-beaked dolphins remain trapped by pack ice. - Glen Whiffen

DFO, whale strandings group, local residents stay on scene to monitor situation

If the residents of Heart’s Delight and area could harness the wind and channel it in an easterly direction over the pack ice that has trapped a small pod of white-beaked dolphins in the town’s harbour, the dolphins would be free by now.

A strong easterly wind is needed to move the ice off the harbour — the best chance for the dolphins’ survival after five or six days of entrapment.

While they can’t control the wind, the residents are doing what they can. They have tossed fish into the water to try to feed the mammals, and a local fishing boat was used to break surface ice to allow them maximum room to swim.

Locals and visitors alike crowd the harbour area during the day and talk about what can be done to save the dolphins if the ice doesn’t move.

The Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) is on the scene to monitor the situation.

In a statement released Wednesday, DFO stated there was no change in the situation overnight Tuesday.

“Various options to assist with this situation were considered and a decision was made to request assistance from a Canadian Coast Guard ship, which was already in the area carrying out routine ice reconnaissance,” the statement said.

“The ship made an attempt to go into Heart’s Delight harbour (on Tuesday) but, unfortunately, it was determined that it would be dangerous for the dolphins if the ship were to attempt to shift the ice, causing the animals additional stress.

“At this point, wind conditions are not expected to improve the ice conditions in the harbour.”

Wayne Ledwell of the Whale Release and Strandings Group is also on the scene monitoring the dolphins.

If the dolphins are forced to beach themselves on the shore, Ledwell’s group — assisted by DFO officers if required — would attempt to take the dolphins by stretcher to a truck and transport them to an area free of ice, where they would be released.

It is not known how long the dolphins can remain healthy in the enclosed harbour, or if they have eaten fish tossed into the water by residents.

“There is no textbook plan,” Ledwell said. “People who know the area have gotten together here and are trying to figure out how to get the dolphins free. Unfortunately, pack ice is a natural mortality for dolphins. Our best hope is that the wind changes.”

Heart’s Delight longtime resident Vern Mercer says he has never seen dolphins trapped in the harbour before.

Mercer has spent a lot of time on the wharf since the dophins were first noticed.

On Wednesday, he said the pack ice appeared to breaking up a little, but it was still a long way from opening up enough to allow the dolphins to escape.

“The open area in the harbour where the dolphins are didn’t freeze over last night, so that was a good thing,” said Mercer, who was at the wharf at daybreak Wednesday to check on the dolphins.

“If the ice happens to push in further, there may be a way to get them on the slipway and transport them to open water. They wouldn’t have to take them that far to release them.”

In the meantime, DFO is cautioning the public to be mindful of safety during the current ice conditions and any time on or near the water. The public is reminded that physical contact with any marine mammal is discouraged due to the possibility of disease transmission.

To report injured or trapped marine animals, contact the Whale Release and Stranding Group at 1-888-895-3003 or a local DFO office. DFO Science is also interested in hearing about any whale and marine mammal sightings as part of their routine research and data collection. Email or tweet to @DFO_NL.

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