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Our Stories
25th April 2019

Recovered seals returned to their natural habitat

Recovered seals return to the wild

The wonderful vets, nursing staff and volunteers at RSPCA East Winch Wildlife Centre, near Kings Lynn, do amazing work with sick and injured animals and birds, measuring the success of what they do by the number of patients they are able to return to the wild.

When fit for release, care is taken to return the animals as nearly as possible to where they were found.  Transporting seals can have its tricky moments, especially when they are large adults!  That’s another story, but here’s a story in pictures, that you might like to share, of a recent release of 5 seals, now fit after treatment, that took place at Horsey in late March.

The event was filmed by an ITV cameraman, and featured on ITV’s ‘This Morning’ in an item with the programme’s vet, Dr Scott Miller, who helped at the release.

The five young seals, two greys and three common, were transported from East Winch in special stretchers, suspended in the back of an RSPCA vehicle.  

Still in their stretchers, the seals were carried onto the beach, where they were released and made their way towards the sea. Hesitant at first, they entered the water and soon appeared to be enjoying their freedom, watched by their carers and others who came to see them off.

The seals needed very little time to adjust to their new environment and disperse into the North Sea.

FoHS welcoming committee greets arriving seals at Horsey Gap
Comfortably supported in special seal stretchers for the journey
Heading for the beach
Alison Charles (Manager of RSPCA East Winch), vet,Scott Miller, and the cameraman discuss what will happen next.
Planning the next move
All present and correct
The release begins
Moments of uncertainty
Which way do we go?
This way!
Not much further
Almost there
Made it!
Goodbye and thank you
Five seals back where they belong

A group of Friends of Horsey Seals (FoHS) volunteers trained in rescue techniques and seal handling, attend callouts to help pups and adult seals, throughout the year, often responding on behalf of RSPCA to calls from members of the public.  

In winter it is generally grey seal pups that need help, but incidences of seals ensnared in fishing net or other plastic detritus occurs frequently and at any time.  The team also attend callouts to a number of common seals (also called harbour seals). Their young are born in summer and, although more advanced at birth, and able to swim after just a few hours, they are less robust than grey seals and susceptible to infections, and are sometimes found in a poor state by holiday-makers and walkers on Norfolk’s beaches. 

At East Winch all patients get the same degree of care, but looking after larger animals, like seals, is a lot more complex and time consuming to reach a successful conclusion, and requires special facilities and far more of the centre’s resources than, say an ailing hedgehog or pigeon. 

An injured deer can recover in a grassy paddock, but seals need watery holding places where they can be examined and treated at the beginning of their stay, and bigger indoor pens with an exercise pool as treatment progresses.  Not to mention expensive fish to eat, medication and possibly great quantities of salt used in some healing treatments.

When recovery is established, the next stage is to rebuild the animal’s size and strength, and they are moved into spacious outdoor enclosures where the pool is big enough to swim and build up strength, and where they can learn to find and catch fish.

Pups entering the sea as weaned youngsters about 6 weeks after birth would learn this instinctively.  Pups that have been rescued and treated at rescue centres, however, have not had that experience, so get help from the centre staff to acquire those skills.  

At East Winch a series of plastic crates and boxes have been fastened together to simulate an underwater environment where fish might lurk.  Morsels of fish are hidden inside the contraption, which is lowered into the pool. The seals, attracted by the possibility of food, learn how to find and retrieve them, and go on to join older animals that ‘hunt’ fish that is thrown into their pool.

Young grey seals would naturally weigh 40-45 kilos at the start of their adult life.  Release into the wild is only considered when those in care reach this weight and have the resources needed to survive.

If you are interested in becoming a volunteer at RSPCA East Winch, or helping with a donation or in other ways, you can read more about the work of the centre, and get contact details, from their website:

RSPCA East Winch Wildlife Centre

AW 25.04.19

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