Video and photo gallery: Seal pups released back into the wild at Winterton after RSPCA care
14:32 26 February 2014
Archant Norfolk © 2014
Orphaned grey seal pups that were cared for at RSPCA East Winch Wildlife Centre following December’s tidal surge have been released back into the wild.
The eight pups, who were only around three weeks old and still covered in white fur when they were washed up on the shore, were too young to survive without their mothers.
But now, thanks to the care from staff at the centre made possible by donations from the public, the seals have been released into their natural habitat.
The grey seals, significantly chunkier than they were two months ago, were set free at Winterton-on-Sea today.
Now strong enough to survive in the North Sea, the youngsters - named after different breakfasts - bumped and flopped their way into the water. Within minutes, they were seen playing and swimming out of sight.
Sugar Puff and Bran Flake were the first to go, quickly followed by Frostie, Marmite, Cheerio, Morn Flake, Coco Pops and Black Pudding.
Alison Charles, centre manager, spoke of her delight at seeing the seals leave.
She said: “It is never sad to see them go - to take them back to the wild is the best bit.
“Seals are philopatric which means they will come back when they are adults. But these are juveniles so they’re off to have an adventure in the Atlantic before returning to Norfolk.”
Winterton resident Jenny Devlin, 60, was walking on the beach with her son Ben, 32, and 22-month-old grandson Alfie, when they stopped to watch the seal release.
“We’re so lucky to get to see this,” said Mrs Devlin. “This is why is so nice to live on the coast.”
Earlier this morning, the seals began their journey at the East Winch wildlife centre.
From inside a drained pool at the centre, several wildlife assistants worked hard to ensure the heavy pups were securely placed in special stretchers, followed by a weigh-in.
The seals were then carefully carried and their stretchers placed in the back of two vehicles before being driven an hour-and-a-half down the coast.
They are just the first eight of 101 seals due to be released over the coming months and were the first to go after putting on enough weight and learning how to compete for food.
Some 100 pups arrived at the centre after the December 5 tidal surge, and it was the biggest rescue programme the centre had dealt with in 25 years.
Most pups were in need of intensive care and hand-feeding, which was virtually around the clock.
Mrs Charles, who has worked at the centre since 1989, said: “We had to rehydrate the seals with Lectare with a stomach tube, then transferred to fish soup, followed by force feeding which progressed to feeding by hand, then self-feeding.
“It was very hard work, and we all had aching sore limbs as you have sit astride them, and the pups could be very powerful.
“Someone kindly donated knee pads as our knees were getting very sore.”
As the task was so big, the centre had to appeal for help.
Staff were overwhelmed with donations from the public, and the £102,000 received helped to cover food and medication costs.
Mrs Charles thanked the public and volunteers for the help, and said: “We would not coped without the help we had. We had an amazing response from the public; people really wanted to help.”