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Rescue underway for pod of dolphins stranded by ice in Dildo Cove

A pod of hapless white-beaked dolphins has been stranded by sea ice in the shallow harbour outside Dildo, N.L.

The dolphins could be seen swimming in circles just metres away from worried onlookers, trapped in an area about the size of a residential swimming pool.

People in the area told CBC News they hadn’t witnessed stranded dolphins in Dildo Cove for decades.

By lunchtime Thursday, three of the 10 dolphins had been pulled out of the water by Fisheries and Oceans Canada officials, a process requiring workers and volunteers to submerge themselves in the frigid seawater in a bid to guide the dolphins closer to shore.

Those three dolphins died before they could be relocated.

Seven more remained in the harbour as of mid-afternoon, unable to swim out to the open ocean due to arctic pack ice that had drifted almost to shore.

rescue underway for pod of dolphins stranded by ice in dildo cove

Dolphin rescue in Dildo Cove

3 hours ago

Duration 1:02

At least 10 dolphins were stuck in an ice-free area the size of a swimming pool just outside Dildo, N.L., as fisheries officials and volunteers attempted to relocate the pod.

“Just havin’ a look and hoping we can get some of these fellers off to sea,” said Dildo resident Susan Reid, who was watching the operation unfold Thursday morning.

“We just like to save what we can. It’s hard to see, but the more we save the better we feel, so we just hope we can save a few more.”

Ice a natural killer

The rescue effort has been hampered by enormous challenges.

“Just trying to get them out of the water is a huge effort,” said Wayne Ledwell, a marine biologist and head of the Whale Release and Strandings Group.

“First you gotta catch them, then you got a three- to five-hundred pound animal, and they don’t got much to hold onto.”

Ledwell says handling a dolphin means attempting to grasp it by its slippery dorsal and pectoral fins — it can’t be pulled by its tail, he said.

Volunteers have brought down snowmobile sleds to transport the captured animals from the shore to nearby trucks. The rescued dolphins will be transported for release in nearby Placentia Bay, which is currently free of ice.

A man in a toque with icy water and dolphins in background
Marine biologist Wayne Ledwell heads the Whale Release and Strandings Group in Newfoundland and Labrador. (Terry Roberts/CBC)

The Dildo dolphins are one pod of several that have found themselves stranded in Trinity Bay in recent weeks. 

“Seems to be probably one big group of them that got split up,” says Ledwell. “They’re just trying to evade the ice.”

The heavy sea ice is notorious for killing dolphins, Ledwell added, saying it can often confuse, crush and trap the mammals, thwarting their ability to navigate to safety. Dolphins also won’t swim underneath ice as it hinders their ability to surface for air.

Volunteers are trying to prevent the sea ice in Dildo Cove from pressing up against the shore, rigging a partition with ropes and weights to hold it in place and buy the dolphins time for the weather to shift the ice away from the harbour.

Ledwell says if the ice can be reined in, the remaining seven dolphins will likely survive.

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

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