UNIVERSITY College Cork is playing a vital role in new research centring on how rehabilitated juvenile seals learn to feed for themselves.
Two seal pups, named after Disney princesses Ariel and Merida, were released in recent days by Exploris Aquarium in County Down.
The young seals were released back into the wild with GPS trackers attached to help experts gain a better understanding of seal behaviour.
At the helm of the new research project is UCC Ecology and Zoology lecturer, Dr Mark Jessopp.
“When we heard about the programme UCC wrote in and identified that there was a gap in knowledge about how juvenile seals hunt for food post-rehabilitation,” Dr Jessopp said.
While seals have been rehabilitated by Exploris since the late 80s, this is the first time they have been tagged to help scientists gain a better understanding of their lives post-release.
Dr Jessopp said: “This was the first two tags we have deployed. We are planning on 15 in total over this year and next on rehabilitated harbour seals to get an idea of post-release survival and behaviour.
"While we would love this to be a larger study the tags are incredibly expensive, costing around €4,000 each.
"They will, however, give us about six-eight months of data which should provide us with a great insight into how deep and how long the young seals dive and how they learn to feed for themselves.”
The tags are designed to cause the least distress and disruption to the animal as possible and for that reason drop off naturally during the seal’s annual moult.
The seals also have to be a minimum size and condition before release and the tag is only about 1% of the animal’s body weight.