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People pitch in to help rescue over a dozen dolphins trapped by sea ice in Heart's Delight-Islington, N.L., on March 10.Jeff Reid/The Canadian Press

The mayor of a rural newfoundland community is beaming with pride after more than a dozen people from his town waded into the frigid Atlantic ocean to help rescue dolphins trapped by a crush of sea ice.

Melvin Harnum, the mayor of Heart’s Delight-Islington, said residents and members of the local volunteer fire department loaded the thrashing animals into deep-bellied sleds normally used for hauling wood or ice-fishing gear. They pulled the sleds out of the water, tied them to ATVs and towed the dolphins to the other side of the harbour.

“Some of them were out there with nothing on, just had sneakers on out in the water. My God, ice water!” Harnum said in an interview Saturday. Without the residents’ efforts and their idea to use the sleds, more dolphins would likely have died, he added.

The animals first seemed to be in trouble on Friday morning when people began posting pictures of what seemed like a dozen dolphins trapped in the shallow, rocky water near the shore.

Heart’s Delight-Islington is home to about 675 people and sits at the south end of a bowl-shaped harbour in Trinity Bay. Harnum said the strong winds and the tides had quickly moved a lot of ice into the area.

Wayne Ledwell, a marine biologist with the province’s Whale Release and Strandings group, said the animals were white-beaked dolphins, which don’t like to dive far beneath the ice to free themselves. Instead, they pushed into increasingly shallow water, where the rocks beneath them sliced into their flesh.

“These animals, they won’t last on a beach very long for being bruised up by ice,” Ledwell said in an interview Saturday.

He arrived at the scene on Friday afternoon to find the people of Heart’s Delight already at work transporting the dolphins. He said he lifted the remaining sleds and their sea mammal cargo onto a flatbed trailer and trucked them to the nearby town of Whiteway, where the harbour was completely clear.

Some of the animals didn’t survive, and some didn’t make it out of the other side of the Heart’s Delight harbour before the ice shifted and trapped them again, Ledwell said. A Coast Guard ice breaker ship even sailed to the area on Saturday morning to loosen up the wide, frozen slabs.

The dolphins that did escape will face more challenges when they try to leave Trinity Bay, which is a long inlet between Newfoundland’s Avalon Peninsula and the rest of the island. Strong winds from the Arctic are pushing thick expanses of pack ice southward toward St. John’s and the dolphins will have to figure out how to navigate it, Ledwell said.

Even so, he said the animals were lucky they ran into trouble in Heart’s Delight, where the community so quickly sprang into action.

“They figured it out,” Ledwell said. “And if you don’t figure it out, in many cases, there is no hope for the animals.”