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Dolphins have been confined to a small area of open water in White Bay, near the small village of Seal Cove, for the last four days. ((Courtesy of Lori Tilley))

While residents of a town on Newfoundland's northeast coast are calling for an icebreaker to free five trapped dolphins, a marine biologist warns such a move may make things worse.

The dolphins have been confined to an area near the White Bay community of Seal Cove, with residents and their regional MP saying the mammals will die without help.

"You could hear them screeching … but you couldn't see them," said Seal Cove Mayor Winston May, who has been keeping a close watch on the dolphins since ice trapped them four days ago.

May said stormy weather late Wednesday pushed even more ice into the bay, with slushy ice nearly choking off a small hole that the dolphins have been using to breathe.

Gerry Byrne, the Liberal MP for Humber-St. Barbe-Baie Verte, is supporting residents' calls for a Canadian Coast Guard ship to break up ice in the area, allowing the dolphins to swim to open water.

"If we can save these animals, let's do it," said Byrne, who trained and worked as a marine biologist before entering politics.

"There's no need to let these animals suffer needlessly or without value. Let's save these animals."

But Jack Lawson, a marine biologist with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, told CBC News that an icebreaker may not be the answer.

"The risk is, of course, as it pushes in to try and break a passage, it may close off that ice hole just with the ice pressure, so I'd be a little concerned about bringing in a vessel like that trying to get these guys with such a small hole that they're in," Lawson said Thursday.

The story of the dolphins has attracted international attention, with video images beamed worldwide. A Facebook group has even been launched to pressure the Canadian government to dispatch an icebreaker to the area.

Lawson said officials have seen this kind of situation before in the province. He said much depends on what happens with ice in the area.

"What we've got to hope for is an ease off in the ice pressure and these animals, this species in particular, they're quite adept at moving in and around ice," he said.

"If any species has a chance to get out, it will be these guys."

Lawson said people should not worry about whether the dolphins will starve to death, as they have a layer of blubber and can live for some time without eating. The key factor, he said, is access to air.