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Dolphins swim behind drifting pack ice at Seal Cove on Wednesday. ((Pam Snow/Canadian Press))

The mayor of a small, coastal village in Newfoundland has appealed to the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans to send out icebreakers to save five dolphins that have become trapped in the community's harbour.

Seal Cove Mayor Winston May said if the white-beaked dolphins are not rescued soon, they will likely die.

The dolphins became trapped in a small hole in the ice about 30 metres from shore four days ago and are desperate to find a way out, May said.

Dolphins need open water to breathe, but there's about 500 metres of ice blocking their escape, the mayor said.

"They're not going to survive much longer," May said.

The mammals keep swimming in circles in the hole, which is about 30 metres by 200 metres, May said.

"They keep going round circles and trying to keep this little pool of water open so that they can have their breathing area," he said.

Residents in the community on the western side of the Baie Verte Peninsula, about 400 kilometres northwest of St. John's, believe the dolphins chased fish into the harbour but then became trapped when a storm pushed ice from the open ocean into the area.

No one in the community of 400 has a boat big enough to break through the so-called slob ice, a thick carpet of slush and frozen chunks the size of dinner tables.

May said the community has contacted the Fisheries Department to see whether the coast guard can send an icebreaker to help free the dolphins. But officials told the town that no vessels were available, he said.

"Those dolphins there last night, they were all crying," Seal Cove resident Stanley Banks said. "You could hear the screams coming out of them. And they were trying to break the ice there just to survive. And there's us here empty-handed. And DFO with all this money won't even send a boat in here to let those out? It's a crime."

May said local residents have come to him in tears because they are so upset and concerned for the dolphins. It is the first time he's aware of that dolphins have become trapped in the harbour, he said.

Icebreakers could crush dolphins: expert

Even if an icebreaker could be sent, it may not be the best option for rescuing the trapped dolphins, said Wayne Ledwell, a Newfoundland and Labrador expert on rescuing trapped whales.

"Those boats push ice ahead of them and that can crush the animal, and that has happened before," Ledwell said.

He added that it's not unusual for dolphins to get stranded and that about half of the animals that become trapped do survive.

Officials are monitoring the situation. A change in weather may help free the dolphins.

Forecasts call for temperatures to rise over the next 48 hours and for the winds to change direction.

With files from the Canadian Press