2 February 2008
Orphaned seal Viktoria to “phone home”…
Steni Vala, Alonnisos, Greece — An orphaned Mediterranean monk seal pup will be the first of her kind to communicate with researchers by mobile phone, following her return to the wild today.
Blue skies and balmy temperatures welcomed a large crowd of well-wishers to this winter-tranquil fishing village to bid seal pup Viktoria farewell. Guests gathered at “Tassia’s” waterfront taverna – decorated with banners and posters just for the occasion – to hear MOm researchers and Monk Seal Centre staff explain the rescue and rehabilitation process that almost certainly saved Viktoria’s life.
“A monk seal release is always an exceptional event,” said Jeny Androukaki, who is head of the Centre. “Because of the rarity of the species, every individual is precious to the survival of the species. If Viktoria survives, she will give birth to about 15 pups during her lifetime.”
The critically-endangered Mediterranean monk seal is thought to number less than 600 individuals throughout its range.
Viktoria was rescued last October after being found by her namesake, Viktoria Drouga, a taverna owner on the Cycladic island of Tinos, who saved the pup from battering storm waves. Weak and exhausted from her ordeal, pup Viktoria was then just 4 days old and weighed only 15 kg. Transferred to the Seal Rehabilitation Centre on Alonnisos, she responded well to the 4 month treatment regime, and weighed in during a final veterinary check yesterday at 52 kg.
Also yesterday, Viktoria was fitted with a compact GPS/GSM transmitter pack, courtesy of the St. Andrews-based Sea Mammal Research Unit, whose Dr. Bernie McConnell was on hand to supervise the procedure.
The instrument, which is designed to be shed naturally during the animal’s first moult in about 6 months, will provide packet data via the GPRS mobile phone network, in effect providing information that will help track the seal and monitor its welfare. From the data obtained, MOm researchers hope to map the seal’s post-release movements, and determine the depth of its dives.
Some 300 well-wishers attended the event, including local inhabitants of Alonnisos, Viktoria Drouga who rescued the ailing pup from stormy seas back in October, Sofia Staikou, head of CSR at Piraeus Bank, which has supported the rescue and rehabilitation financially through its corporate responsibility programme, the Mayor of Alonnisos, marine park officials, and a visiting representative of the Government of the Balearic Islands, Spain.
“I’m so proud,” said Viktoria Drouga after a brief final visit to the pup before its release. “It was just a feeling, but even from the beginning I was convinced she would survive.”
Speeches and film-show over, it was time for the high-point of the release ceremony – Viktoria’s appearance from the small cabin that houses the rehabilitation unit.
Now a hefty 52-kilos, she was placed in her blue transport cage, then carried towards the village dock, eager onlookers watching from the sidelines.
Looking calm yet puzzled by all the attention, she was placed onboard the launch that would now carry her to a secluded bay within the Marine Park, the release monitored only by her principal carers and researchers in order to minimise stress and aid acclimatisation.
Approaching the release site at the island of Yura, the team sighted another young seal swimming off shore. It quickly disappeared. Viktoria was then ferried to the chosen release site by inflatable, an open cave with pebble beach. “She left her cage almost immediately,” said Jeny Androukaki, “and quickly began exploring her surroundings, the beach and shoreline waters, playing with the waves and the rocks underwater.”
Updates on Viktoria's movements – mobile phone coverage permitting – are expected within the days ahead.
For further information:
Newborn pup in dramatic rescue, TMG 10 (2): November 2007.