June 22, 2018 started out like any other cold day for Mallory Harrigan, and her colleagues Cliff and Alan Russell. The trio was searching for crabs in the coastal waters off Labrador, Canada. But soon they were faced with something completely unexpected. On an iceberg near them, an animal appeared to be struggling to survive. It looked hypothermic and lonely, and voracious gulls circled it. Moved by the plight the animal was in, Harrigan and the two Russells felt they had no choice but to intervene … Then they stumbled upon a big surprise.
That was unfortunate, because up until that moment, things had been going pretty well for the crew. While the group was a bit behind schedule, nothing out of the ordinary had happened. A month later, Harrigan said for People magazine, “We were a little late. There was an unusual amount of ice that prevented us from going out.”
In every way, the day had unfolded like any other. The trio took the ship – a boat called The Northern Swan – to the settlement of Pinsents Arm. There, they planned to stop to refuel. But when the crew got to town, their ordinary day turned into an extraordinary one.
About four miles offshore, the crew spotted a conspicuous iceberg. The thing looked like a mushroom – but that wasn’t the only thing that caught the trio’s attention. Some kind of animal appeared to be on it … and it looked like it needed help.
This iceberg drifted out to sea, and the animal on it was in distress. At first, the crew of three thought that the animal must have been a seal. But in this case, it could have simply dived into the water and swam to safety.
But this animal was not a seal – or any other kind of sea creature. And since it wasn’t a natural swimmer, the vulnerable animal was stuck on this iceberg with no chance of rescue. That is, unless the crew of The Northern Swan intervened quickly.
Fortunately, Harrigan, Cliff and his son Alan were up to the task. The trio apparently couldn’t drive past the distressed animal without helping it. But this rescue mission was no easy task.
Icebergs can be very dangerous, after all. Does anyone else remember the Titanic? Yes, the frozen structures are sometimes unstable. Pieces of ice can break off and crash into the water around them. This means that you should avoid getting too close, as you can be hit by falling debris.
There are many icebergs floating around in the coastal waters of the Canadian province of Newfoundland and Labrador. But only a small part of them actually come from the Canadian Arctic. It’s probably about a tenth, while the rest calve from Greenland’s glaciers.
Regardless of where the icebergs come from, there are plenty of them off Newfoundland and Labrador. And there are so many in the region that the people who live there use them in interesting ways. For example, the water from the icebergs can be drunk. It is used to make alcoholic beverages such as beer, gin and vodka.
And back in April 2017, an iceberg off Newfoundland and Labrador caused significant waves. The structure was enormous. It could even be seen from the shore of a small settlement called Ferryland. The mayor of the town also spoke to The Canadian Press news agency about the incident. He said, “It’s the biggest I’ve ever seen here.”
The 45-meter-high iceberg became a sensation, and people in the region went to Ferryland to catch a glimpse of it. Tourists uploaded pictures of the berg online, generating remarkable interest. Eyes from all over the world were now focused on the tiny Canadian town.
So 2017 was a big year for icebergs floating around in the northern part of the Atlantic Ocean. Experts recorded even more than usual this year, citing two reasons to explain the increase. The first is that winds of unusual intensity and direction may have driven the icebergs into the area. The more troubling second reason, however, was that global warming has caused the giants to break off from Greenland’s glaciers.
Regardless of the reasons for their appearance, icebergs can be fascinating. After all, the structures can have specks of color, tunnels, and frozen boulders. Living creatures have even been known to be trapped and preserved in the floating chunks of ice.
Yes, you can never be sure what to expect when you stand in front of an iceberg. But the crew of the Northern Swan was shocked as they approached the animal trapped on the iceberg. As they got closer, it became clear that the animal involved was not what they had initially thought it was.
A few days after the dramatic incident, Harrigan spoke with The Dodo and recalled her feelings. She said, “We thought it was a baby seal.” Still, that theory dissipated as they got a little closer. So, if it wasn’t a seal, what had the crew encountered?
Much to the surprise of the three sailors aboard the Northern Swan, it was not a sea creature. Nor, for that matter, was it a species one would expect to find so far out at sea. As Harrigan later told People, “It was a small arctic fox.”
Arctic foxes often live in caves. So this begs the question: How or why was this specimen in the middle of a wayward iceberg in the icy sea? Well, as Harrigan told Bored Panda, Cliff had his own opinion on the subject.
Harrigan said, “He was probably out there looking for food when he got stuck. Cliff says he thinks the fox went there looking for some meat on the ice when it broke apart and sent the cute fox out to sea.” All in all, this theory seems pretty plausible.
Arctic foxes are generally tough creatures that adapt well to the harsh conditions of the Arctic. Their small ears, furry feet and small snouts help them survive in extreme sub-zero temperatures. Still, this particular fox seemed to be in big trouble when the crew of the Northern Swan found it.
The fox was emaciated and hypothermic, apparently about to die. Harrigan and the Russells were touched by the animal’s plight, but they were also a little hesitant to help. Added to the dangers of approaching an iceberg was that the fox was a wild animal. They had no way of knowing how it might react to their presence.
The crew was not deterred and decided to act in the hope of saving the fox’s life. So they sailed their boat toward the iceberg and then tried to lure the animal onto the ship. But the animal hesitated and would not leave the iceberg for the benefit of the boat, as Harrigan later explained to Bored Panda.
Harrigan explained, “[The fox] tried to run away from us first, so it was hard to get him on board.” He must have been so confused about what was happening to him. The crew was very concerned that he might react aggressively.
But the crew put aside their concerns to help him. If they had left the animal there, it probably would have perished. As Harrigan told The Dodo, “We knew we were his only chance to survive because the winds had changed and all the ice was drifting further out to sea.”
But the animal was still fighting determinedly. In fact, the crew had to react quickly to gain control of the situation. Harrigan spoke with People and explained what they had done. She said, “We had to break off the piece of ice he was on so he could jump into the water and we could collect him with the landing net.”
When he was in the icy water, the fox struggled until he had no strength left. Only then could the crew pull him aboard. Then they set up a temporary bed so that the animal could rest and gather strength.
Harrigan told People, “[The fox] crawled into a corner and curled up into a ball. We tried feeding him chips and crackers, anything we had on hand, but he wouldn’t eat for a long time.” This was a problem, of course, because the animal was in desperate need of food.
The crew members feared that their rescue efforts might have been in vain. The fox’s life was in great danger and its survival was far from assured. But the animal finally went to his new bed of sawdust, where he could rest and warm up.
Harrigan told People that the fox fell asleep almost as soon as he curled up in his bed. And after that, he slept for several hours. This only made it clearer what terrible strains he must have endured on the iceberg.
Finally, however, the fox woke up. And finally he began to eat, too, as Harrigan Bored Panda explained. She said, “He wouldn’t eat at all for the first five or six hours. We gave him chips and crackers, but he didn’t want anything until he woke up, and then we fed him Vienna sausage.”
After the crew showed the fox that they wanted to help him, he seemed to relax a little. He had finally eaten something and slept, and we suspect it was the first time he had done so in a very long time. When the ship finally reached land, the fox was released.
It’s hard to say how long the fox was stuck on the iceberg, but its fur provided a clue. Harrigan explained to People, “A friend later told us that an Arctic fox should have brown fur at this time of year. The fact that his fur was still mostly white was an indicator of how long he must have been out there, it could have been weeks.”
Arctic foxes have white fur in winter. This is also a useful feature, as they can better adapt to their icy environment. But when summer comes, the fur changes from white to brown or gray. This helps them stay camouflaged after the ice melts.
These adaptations help the arctic fox hunt its prey, which in summer includes birds, rodents and fish. But when winter sets in, food sources can be difficult to come by. The fox might then seek out polar bears, hoping to pick off some of their scraps.
It was probably the hunt for food that caused Harrigan’s Arctic Fox to get stuck on this iceberg. The animal was probably trying to survive – but instead got into a difficult situation. Fortunately, Good Samaritans came along just in time.
If the crew hadn’t happened by, the fox would probably have ended up far out at sea, with no hope of ever coming ashore alive again. Harrigan explained, “The winds had changed direction to the southwest. So if we hadn’t found him, he would have just drifted further out to sea.”
But luck – and a nice group of people – intervened and the fox survived the ordeal. And after the fox ate, his handlers released him to go back to living his own life. Harrigan told The Dodo, “We dropped him off in an old doghouse. He shook himself off and that was it!”
After all that, the fox was always seen wandering around the area where it had been released. In fact, Harrigan never had to say goodbye to the animal, as she explained to People. She said, “We can still see him from time to time running around the island chasing small animals.”
After this exhausting ordeal, the Arctic fox has become a celebrity. The story of his rescue has been reported all over the world. And this despite the fact that Internet is rather scarce where he is now traveling.
In any case, Harrigan was happy about the little arctic fox she was able to save from that iceberg. She told People, “We knew our little friend would be the talk of our little community, but we never expected him to be so well known worldwide! We’re pretty excited.”