'Mission accomplished': Trapped dolphins in Heart's Delight rescued with community effort

A pod of seven dolphins have been rescued, after being trapped in the Heart's Delight harbour by sea ice since at least Sunday.

Resident says DFO officers kept an eye on the stranded animals throughout Wednesday night

A pod of seven dolphins in the harbour at Heart's Delight has been hemmed in by sea ice since at least Sunday. (Zach Goudie/CBC)

Residents are cheering — and breathing a sigh of relief — now that a pod of dolphins trapped in a shallow harbour in Heart's Delight have been freed from the ice that had pinned them close to shore.

People in the small outport in Newfoundland's Trinity Bay had crowded the shores of their harbour Thursday morning to help with the rescue of a pod of seven dolphins trapped in the water by sea ice since at least Sunday.

A group of seven dolphins trapped in ice in Heart's Delight, N.L., swam free after days of being trapped in the shallow harbour 0:38

By 2 p.m. NT, the dolphins had been freed.

"It's a mission accomplished," said Stanley Legge, the local fire chief and heavy equipment owner. "I guess we done something good today for the environment and I guess it give a lot of people a lot of peace of mind that the dolphins got away freely."

Stanley Legge used his excavators to help free the dolphins. (Eddy Kennedy/CBC)

After a suggestion from a friend's wife on Thursday morning, Legge took his excavators down to the wharf to help dig out the ice that was holding the dolphins back.

"We had the b'ys there swiping the ice and pushing it around the head of the wharf there, trying to break out some of the ice," Legge said shortly after the dolphins made their escape.

The crowd of onlookers, many who had been keeping an eye on the situation since it began, cheered and honked their horns as they watched seven fins swim through the fresh gap in the ice and scatter out to sea.

A group of dolphins that had been trapped in ice in the shallow harbour in Heart's Delight, N.L., for days finally swim free and head back out into open ocean. (Eddy Kennedy/CBC)

"It's amazing. I was so worried they weren't going to make it out," said local resident Sharon Moss.

"Everyone was jumping for joy. God, I'm so happy they are free and they are safe. And now they're going to go get a feed!"

It was a community effort to free the dolphins, from Legge's excavator and local rescue crews on scene, to the hospitality shown to everyone involved.

"Everybody has come out here until dark at night keeping an eye on them, hoping they're going to get safely back out," said Charles Sooley, a retired fisherman from the area.

Heart's Delight is on Trinity Bay in southeast Newfoundland. (Google Maps)

Residents of Heart's Delight brought their own boats — along with their own heavy equipment — to help in the rescue of the dolphins trapped in the cove by heavy sea ice.

"I just had a lady come down now and she wanted to know if we wanted sandwiches made," Sooley said.

The volunteer fire department opened its doors to everyone keeping watch over the animals on Wednesday night, offering hot coffee and tea, he said.

Charles Sooley said the volunteer fire department opened it doors and offered coffee and tea to people watching over the dolphins on Wednesday night. (Eddy Kennedy/CBC)

Neighbours have been helping officials with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans and members of Newfoundland's Whale Release and Strandings group, all of whom pulled an all-nighter Wednesday to keep an eye on ice and water levels in the harbour.

Earlier this week, a Canadian Coast Guard vessel was brought to the area to break the sea ice, with a goal of clearing a passage to open water.

However, the water in the area was too shallow for the vessel.  

On Wednesday afternoon, the hope was for the weather to co-operate and blow the sea ice out, allowing the dolphins to escape.

But on Thursday morning, with the help of two excavators brought down to the shore by Legge, new strategies were underway.

On Thursday morning, an excavator was digging a channel in the ice. (Zach Goudie/CBC)

By Thursday afternoon, the excavators had dug a channel through the ice, big enough to allow a small boat to pass through.

The hope was to get the break in the ice wide enough to allow the dolphins to swim back out to sea — a goal they accomplished.