5 March 2004
Monk Seal Pup on the Mend
Dimitris survives snow storms, freezing temperatures and power cuts
Orphaned monk seal pup Dimitris also affectionately known by his nickname “Mitsos“ is steadily gaining strength, according to veterinary experts and nursing staff at MOms intensive care station on Alonissos.
Discovered stranded after a fierce winter storm on 29 December last year [see Monk Seal Orphan Rescued on Karpathos], the ailing pup was seriously dehydrated and malnourished. Now, after several weeks of intensive care, the pup is weighing in at 26 kilos, and is becoming ever more playful and confident.
“He eats about 3 kg of fish fillet every day,” says Jeny Androukaki, head of MOm’s Rescue and Rehabilitation Unit. “He swims and dives for about an hour in his pool before taking a rest on the platform. He plays with stones at the bottom of the pool and a small floating buoy which we use as stimuli for swimming and diving. He also chases fish that are thrown into his pool for exercise.”
Although he is already “hunting“ live fish and killing them, his instincts have yet to tell him to eat his prey. There is nothing particularly unusual in that, since had he still been in the wild, the 2.5 month old pup would still be nursing.
For the moment, then, Dimitris must still be force-fed with filleted tuna.
“During feeding he is very energetic,“ says Androukaki, “and is undoubtedly the most biting seal ever rehabilitated in Greece!“
But following each of the four-daily feeds down from an initial 6 the pup turns docile and relaxes on his platform, warmed by an infrared lamp.
Dimitris rehabilitation has not escaped the odd technical hitch the latest being a snow storm that blanketed the island, cutting off road access, water and electricity. With trees and cables brought down by the snow and pipes freezing, it was 24 hours before power was restored and 48 hours before water was again on tap.
Alonissos locals, prepared for whatever the weather was to throw at them, did their best to help the seal orphan.
When temperatures plunged below zero, the seal was warmed with warm water pots, while after sunset feedings were accomplished by candlelight.
Although the pool remained murky for a couple of days, this did not deter the seal from diving and occasionally disappearing from view. During the storm Dimitris even gained another kilo and also found another fun toy to play with the warm water pot.
The rehabilitation of Dimitris is a joint effort: it is carried out by MOm in collaboration with the Seal Rehabilitation and Research Centre of the Netherlands, and the Veterinary School of Thessaloniki. It also relies on the scientific expertise of Prof. Ab Osterhaus, Head of the Department of Virology, Erasmus University, Rotterdam.
All being well, Dimitris release into the Northern Sporades Marine Park will take place in about 3 months. By that time, he will weigh about 50 kg and will be confident in hunting and devouring his food. He will be dye-marked and tagged in order to help MOm researchers monitor his progress during the first months of his life in the wild.
The Mediterranean monk seal is Europes most endangered marine mammal, with fewer than 500 individuals still surviving in the wild. Dimitris perhaps fortunately does not realize that he is the most precious seal in rehab in the whole world. MOms rehabilitation team and its supporters, on the other hand, are aware of it and are making every effort to ensure that Dimitris will return to the wild and rejoin his own kind.