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13th November, 2013

First pup of 2013 spends 24 hours in Desertas Islands Rehabilitation Unit

by Rosa Pires, Parque Natural da Madeira Service
The pup resting on Tabaqueiro beach, Desertas Islands. Photo: PNMS.

The pup resting on Tabaqueiro beach, Desertas Islands. Photo: PNMS.

We are now in the monk seal pupping season in Madeira’s Desertas Islands. Over recent years, peak births have occurred in October, but this year we detected the first pup on 31 October. This pup was observed over 4 days to be always alone, resting on the same beach – Tabaqueiro. When on one day it was considered to be overly lethargic, it was decided to take the pup to the Rehabilitation Unit on the Desertas Islands. Fortunately, this allowed us to confirm that the pup was in a good condition; a male about three weeks of age, 114cm in length and weighing around 20kg. Awaiting better sea conditions, the young seal was released into its natural habitat the following day. Immediately entering the sea, it swam to the cave where we believe it was born – Tabaqueiro cave, considered the monk seal maternity cave of the Desertas Islands.

The pup in the Desertas Islands Rehabilitation Unit. Photo: PNMS.

The pup in the Desertas Islands Rehabilitation Unit. Photo: PNMS.

This was the third seal to spend some time in our Rehabilitation Unit – fortunately for a short time! In 1997, a female pup that had lost contact with its mother was brought in for treatment but was later successfully reunited with its mother. Then in 2008, a sick adult female with a serious heart condition died after several days in the Unit.

The recently released pup is being monitored on Tabaqueiro beach; unusually, it uses the beach alone and from time to time moves to the cave where, we believe, it is being nursed by its mother. This is atypical behaviour since in previous years, although pups have been observed alone on the beach, their mothers or other females would visit frequently to take care of them.

The images to be collected from the two automatic cameras that were installed at the end of September inside Tabaqueiro cave will hopefully allow us to better understand this behaviour. We plan to remove the cameras in April, when we expect to have very low seal activity inside the cave.

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