Starving Arctic Fox Stranded on Iceberg Is Rescued by Canadian Crabbers and Revived with Vienna Sausages
When crab fishermen Mallory Harrigan, Cliff Russell and Alan Russell set out off the coast of Labrador, Canada, early Friday, June 22, it was pretty much a morning like any other.
"We were off to a late start," Harrigan tells PEOPLE, "but there had been an unusual amount of ice that prevented us from getting out."
The Northern Swan's crew set their gear and powered onward to Pincent's Arm, a small coastal town of Newfoundland and Labrador, in order to refuel. It was then, approximately 4 miles from land, that they spotted something unusual on a piece of ice.
"It was a small artic fox," recalls Harrigan. She suspects he became stranded on the iceberg while hunting for food.
Starving and freezing, they knew the unlucky animal wouldn't last much longer alone on the ice. Still, the crew was reluctant to bring the fox on board the boat at first.
"He's a wild animal and we didn't know how he'd react," Harrigan explains, "but we knew we were his only chance for survival."
At first, the helpless creature was afraid and wouldn't come near the humans.
"He fought hard to try to get away. We had to break off the piece of ice he was on so we could get him in the water and scoop him up with the dipnet," Harrigan tells PEOPLE.
The fox swam until he became exhausted. Once fatigue from his efforts set in, he finally let the hopeful group of rescuers scoop him up.
"He crawled into a corner and curled into a ball. We tried to feed him chips and crackers, whatever we had on hand, but he wouldn't eat for a long time," Harrigan said.
It was obvious to the humans that this poor little fox hadn't eaten in weeks, but they didn't realize until later that the struggling animal hadn't slept either.
Being indefinitely stranded, along with the stress of suddenly being forced off of an iceberg and into the water and then pulled into a boat, had taken its toll on the furry castaway.
Once the Northern Swan reached Pincent's Arm, Harrigan and the Russells set up a bed of sawdust made out of four fish pans in an attempt to dry the fox off. But up until this point, they were not sure if he would survive.
"Once we got him in his makeshift bed he fell fast asleep," Harrigan tells PEOPLE.
The Northern Swan arrived back in the resettled community of William's Harbour, but it wasn't until hours later that the fox finally woke up.
"We were able to feed and water him," says Harrigan. "We gave him a tin of vienna sausages and a bowl of water."
The frozen fellow ended up being pretty tame once he realized they were there to help him.
"A friend of ours later told us that an artic fox should have brown fur this time of year," Harrigan tells PEOPLE. "The fact that his coat was still mostly white was an indicator of how long he had been out there, which may have been weeks."
It was fortunate the Northern Swan happened to find the stranded animal. Harrigan says there was an unusual amount of ice this year and they had been trying to avoid it.
"The winds had also changed southwest, so if we hadn't found him when we did, he would've only drifted farther out to sea."
Lucky for this rugged survivor, that didn't happen. Harrigan says that the fox now lives on a small island in the harbor which was formerly used for sled dogs.
"We can still see him from time to time, running around the island chasing small animals," she reports. "We put him into one of the old dog houses on the island and gave him some space."
The fox shook himself off, then eagerly explored his new home. (See video here.)
William's Harbour boasts about 20 people — in the summer! — but residents don't have regular access to phone or internet.
"We knew our little friend would be the talk of our small community, but never expected him to make waves around the world!" Harrigan tells PEOPLE. "We're pretty excited."