Evidence that captive seal pups readapt to their natural environment after being released back into the wild has been provided by a new RSPCA study.
The seals were two to three months old when orphaned
Six seal pups rehabilitated at the RSPCA East Winch Wildlife Centre in Norfolk were tracked using satellites.
The pups were brought to the centre in February after being found stranded along the East Coast when they became separated from their mothers.
Experts found they were able to survive and readapt well after treatment.
Trips to North Sea
The four males and two females - Nemo, Hercules, Shrek, Snoopy, Skippy and Morocco - had all been suffering from malnutrition, wounds and sores when they were rescued by the RSPCA.
After a period of rehabilitation they were released back into the wild and satellite tags glued onto their fur.
Five wild adult seals were also tagged and followed in the same area and the results were compared.
After a period of timidity when the pups stayed close to the coast they eventually became bolder and made wider ranging foraging trips miles offshore into the North Sea with one seal pup even reaching the coast of France.
Many of the foraging pups also overlapped with the wild adult feeding areas indicating that the pups were targeting food hot spots.
RSPCA Marine Scientific Officer, Laila Sadler, said:
"We have never previously known whether the seals' body condition deteriorates post-release and they become weak and unable to dive or whether they are reluctant to enter the water.
"This study makes us feel confident that we are doing the right thing."