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Vol. 12 (1): June 2009

Artemis Diary

Eugenia Androukaki

Monk Seal Rescue and Rehabilitation Division, MOm


STOP PRESS | 15.05.2009 | Artemis found dead on Skiathos
Tragically, orphaned monk seal pup 'Artemis' was found dead on Skiathos in the Northern Sporades on 14 May 2009, evidence suggesting that the pup had drowned, most probably as a result of becoming entangled in fishing gear. Further information…

10 December 2008

An orphaned monk seal pup has been discovered on the Aegean island of Leros, fighting for its life after being swept away in a strong winter storm.

Dehydrated and exhausted, and with wounds to the head and flippers, the female newborn pup was found on Blefoutis beach by the deputy-mayor of the island, who immediately contacted the Port Police authorities.

They, in turn, alerted MOm H/Q in Athens. Following established procedures in such emergencies, our Rescue and Rehabilitation Division is now providing initial instructions by telephone. Our first advice is to watch and wait, in case the mother reappears and finds the pup of her own accord.

When, after several hours, there is still no sign of her, we advise gently moving the pup to a safer, less exposed, area of the beach.

11 December 2008

MOm’s rescue team arrives on the island to find the 10-day old pup in a poor state of health. Emergency first aid is administered, including oral rehydration therapy, and basic treatment of wounds.

helicopter transport
First treatment at the Rehabilitation Centre

Artemis is evacuated by helicopter, avoiding a long trip by boat in rough seas.

First treatment at the Monk Seal Rehabilitation Centre in Steni Vala, Alonnisos.

Following examination, it’s decided that the pup will have to be admitted to the Monk Seal Rehabilitation Centre on Alonissos, Northern Sporades, for intensive care and rehabilitation.

A helicopter evacuation is quickly arranged, provided by our long-term sponsors, Piraeus Bank.

Mindful for their important contribution towards saving the small seal, we make a point of thanking the Port Police of Leros and local supporters for their efforts.

23 December 2008

At the suggestion of those who helped in the rescue, the pup has been named ‘Artemis’ — the ancient goddess of wild animals, who was worshipped and highly honoured on the island of Leros.

The pup is responding well to treatment, having overcome initial problems posed by dehydration. Her superficial external wounds and skin infections have been treated with antibiotics and vitamins.

Artemis is also gradually becoming accustomed to her new diet, fish porridge (minced, filleted fish). Her weight has increased, reaching approximately 17 kilos today.

Recovering her strength, she can comfortably swim in the pool of the rehabilitation unit, and also lift herself out onto the platform, without human assistance.

22 January 2009

After 40 days of hospitalization at the Centre, Artemis continues to respond well to treatment and medication. She has also adapted well to the daily care plan designed to prepare her for her return to the wild.

The pup is now 2 months old, weighs 28 kg and has a length of 1.20 cm.

She eats 5 times a day, the rehabilitation team gradually replacing fish porridge with solid food, including tuna fillets. Live fish are also being introduced to the pool in order to stimulate the hunting instincts that will enable Artemis to survive in the wild.

Artemis moulting

Moulting: 11 January 2009.

Having moulted most of her laguno, Artemis has now acquired the short fur of a young seal. She obviously takes much pleasure in swimming in the unit’s pool many hours of the day.

She vocalizes loudly, the MOm team all agreeing that she is the most lively seal ever to undergo rehabilitation at the Centre.

Both the rescue effort and the rehabilitation are being funded by MOm’s long-time supporter, Piraeus Bank, through their Corporate Social Responsibility programme. The Bank has been consistently supporting the conservation of Europe’s most endangered marine mammal for the last 15 years.

Volunteer staff at the Centre have, as usual, provided an indispensable contribution to the rehabilitation programme, and to the success of young Artemis’ treatment.

Both the rescue and treatment of the female pup follows established treatment protocols and is carried out by specially trained biologists within the framework of the EU-funded “MOFI” project, that seeks to mitigate the negative interaction between monk seals and fisheries in Greece.

17 February 2009

After 2 months at the Monk Seal Rehabilitation Centre at Steni Vala, Artemis has now reached 35 kilos.

Though fed 4 kilos of filleted mackerel a day, she spends half the day in the unit pool, learning to hunt live fish and octopus. On a few days, she has even started to sleep in the water.

She continues to be very active and lively whilst awake, her condition and progress in rehab suggesting that she may be ready for release into the wild in about two months’ time.

Volunteer staff continue to provide a great service to the running of the Centre. Although their stay at Steni Vala might be limited because of personal obligations, there has been no shortage of volunteer applications during Artemis’s rehab this winter.

15 March 2009

Artemis in rehab

Gaining weight: 23 March 2009.

Artemis is now 40 kg., she is strong and has begun taking fish from the pool on a regular basis. She sleeps in the water during the day, and indeed now spends most of her life here in the pool. The responsible veterinarian of the Centre, Dr. Natassa Komnenou, is called in for the final veterinary tests. These verify what seems obvious enough from her appearance and behaviour: the seal is healthy, and should be prepared for release. The feedings are diminished to 3 per day; gradually she’s also introduced to unfilleted fish, so as to prepare her digestive system to take whole fish in the wild. The rehabilitation team also diminishes their presence in the Centre, and visitors are cautioned by MOm’s volunteers not to interact with the seal.

10 April 2009

Artemis is now 60 kg, her added weight gained by eating spontaneously in the pool. She is equipped with a satellite transmitter – donated by Twycross Zoo, and implemented with the cooperation of the Sea Mammal Research Centre (SMRU) – to monitor her adaptation and behaviour following release. She is also injected with a microtransponder that may help in monitoring her long-term survival. People are gathering in Steni Vala from many places on Earth to attend the release of the seal tomorrow.

11 April 2009

After a brief ceremony attended by many local well-wishers and visitors from Athens and abroad, Artemis is transferred to MOm’s research boat “IFAW-ODYSSIA”, the transport cage carried by those who, in one way or another, assisted so crucially in her rescue and rehabilitation; including Sophia Staikou, President of Piraeus Bank Group Cultural Foundation, and a representative of the Port Police.

Safely on board, the seal is escorted by members of the MOm rehabilitation team, SMRU, and Natassa Komnenou of Thessaloniki University’s School of Veterinary Medicine.

Artemis in transport cage
Artemis after her release

Saying goodbye to her human carers…

…and hello to the wild.

Two hours later, we arrive at the island of Piperi, in the core zone of the National Marine Park of Alonissos, Northern Sporades.

At a secluded pre-selected beach, with a shallow open cave, we open the cage to release her, and Artemis emerges almost immediately. For the next four hours, we observe her from a distance exploring her new environment, first the beach itself and then its shallow waters. She is not discouraged by the small waves breaking on the shore but plays with them. Once in the water, she quickly exhibits hunting behaviour. At sunset, we say a last goodbye — though by 23:00 on that same evening the first signal has already come through to us from her transmitter!

26 April 2009

The second signal is received from Artemis. Still around Piperi, she’s swimming north-west.

9 May 2009

A number of SMS messages from Artemis have been received. She has been quite active. Following a south-westerly course, she passed the island of Skantzoura, moving out of the Park and towards the mainland. She has travelled for more than 100 km, and is diving regularly and deep, suggesting that she is acclimatizing well to her new environment.

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Copyright © 2009 Eugenia Androukaki, The Monachus Guardian. All Rights Reserved