Rescuers recall harrowing efforts to save trapped dolphins near Bell Island

People on Bell Island have come to the rescue of several dolphins stuck in thick pack ice since Sunday, successfully rescuing four of the dolphins by Monday.

"It was amazing to see a community come together to help these animals out," said Jim Bennett, who was one of several people trying to help the stranded mammals.

Wabana Mayor Gary Gosine said the rescue mission, aided by the Whale Release and Strandings Group, began at daybreak. 

However, not all of the dolphins stuck near Lance Cove beach survived — one died in transit and another four were crushed by the ice, according to Gosine.

It was 'trial and error'

The rescue really kicked into high gear following Lisa Gear posting a picture of the dolphins on Facebook, after her husband returned home from seeing the stranded mammals.

"[The dolphins] were all frozen into the ice, most of them. And they were trapped," Gear told CBC Radio's On the Go .

Bennett was one of those that heeded the call to action, but it took a bit of guesswork before a rescue plan was formalized.

"Part of it was, unfortunately, trial and error," he said.

A sled was used initially to transport the animals but was quickly ruled out because dolphins are too fragile, according to Bennett.

Eventually, a giant sling made out of a tarpaulin on the scene was used to successfully transport the mammals to open water.

'Come together in crisis down by the water'

For one of the dolphins stuck farther out in the ice, the rescue was even more dramatic — and not for the faint of heart.

"We had to walk by the dolphins that were already dead. For me, it was surreal," Bennett said.

He said someone brought down an extension ladder and "we went from one lump of ice to another lump of ice until we were able to reach" the dolphin and get a rope around the creature.

"[The dolphin] looked like it was on its last legs and all the community were hanging on to the rope by the shore and they pulled it in," recalled Bennett, who said he is from Ontario.

"I was completely impressed how people come together in crisis down by the water. This could only happen in Newfoundland. It was really great."

Not over yet

Bennett said the rescued dolphins were bleeding and the top layer of skin was damaged, but residents are far from giving up yet.

"They seem to be swimming well and other Bell Island citizens were going home to thaw herring and capelin and bring it down to this small area where they are today and try to feed them," Bennett said.

"We were told that to just leave them alone but, as animals ourselves, it just didn't make sense to just let them perish."

Meanwhile, Gear said there is still a lot of ice around and the Whale Release and Strandings Group said the dolphins need rest, as they are likely extremely stressed, following their ordeal.

"I like to say, they're not out of the woods, but they are in a clearing," Gear said.