As soon as the seal is healthy and has gained sufficient weight so that it can fend for itself, we release the seal back into the wild. No seal stays in captivity longer than is strictly necessary. Releasing the seals is always a happy occasion. It is the crown on the work of the SRRC workers. The patient is well and can go home. All seals get a tag on their back flipper, so that we will be able to identify them in the future. Sometimes seals lose their tags, which is why we have recently started fitting the seals with electronic information chips to identify them. The information on the chip can be read by scanning the seals body with a special device.
Preparations for the seal"s release
Shortly before departure, the seals that are to be released that day are taken from the pools and are accommodated in special travel baskets. Seals are never released individually, but always in groups of three or four animals, so that they can find support in each other once they are released. The baskets are loaded onto the trailer, and so begins their journey to the Eemshaven, Lauwersoog or Holwerd, where the "HARDER" or the "KRUKEL" are moored. One of these two ships, belonging to the ministry of Agriculture, Nature and Food Quality will transport the seals to the sandbanks. Grey seals are released on the sandbanks near Vlieland or Terschelling, where this species live.
In the Wadden Sea area
Once they have arrived at the sandbank, a rubber dinghy takes the baskets with the seals and the passengers who have come to watch the release to the sandbank. The baskets are placed at approximately 10 metres from the water. Seals are always released at low tide, so they can decide for themselves when they want to go into the water. The baskets are often opened by the children or the seal"s "adoptive parents", who have been invited to come and release their own seal.
All seals are released back into the wild, even blind seals. Blind seals have excellent chances of survival. We can see this by the speed with which they are able to find the sea water. It takes a while for any animal to rediscover the wide open space, but after a couple of minutes they take the plunge into the Wadden Sea. It only takes a moment to see that they are definitely in their element there. Sometimes, wild seals nearby pop their heads above water to welcome the new seals. Other times, the newly released seals emerge above water with a freshly caught fish.
It goes without saying that the SRRC has done much research to find out what the survival chances are of the seals that are released back into the wild. Scientific research reveals that even animals that have been found on the day that they were born, and therefore have not experienced the social behaviour of wild seals, are fully adjusted to behaviour in the wild within a period of two weeks. Research has also shown us that seals are able to catch their own fish without any problems. Sometimes, we even see a newly released seal emerging above water with a freshly caught flatfish in its mouth.