In April 2007 the National Seal Sanctuary gave a temporary home to Sahara, a hooded seal, who had washed up off the coast of Morocco in September 2006.

He was found in a very poor condition lost and malnourished, and after months of rehabilitation in Tenerife, he was then moved to Gweek for the final stage of rehab before being released back into the wild.
Sahara in his transportation cage on arrival at the sanctuary
SaharaSahara had been previously diagnosed with an under active thyroid, causing him to become overweight and lose all his fur.

Sahara was to share a pool with two common seals, who would teach Sahara to compete for his fish and also give him some exercise to build up his muscles.
Finally in June after spending two months learning to compete for his fish, and getting lots of exercise, Sahara was beginning to lose weight and look much more trim.

Sahara also started to grow back his fur which coincided with the normal annual moult for wild hooded seals.
Sahara growing fur
Sahara sunbathing on side of the poolOver the next few months the Animal Care Team were concerned that Sahara may start to lose all his hair again, but luckily this did not happen.

A blood test revealed that Sahara´s thyroid levels had stabilised, and with the results cleared by the vet, his release could be planned.
The plan was to release Sahara back to the Arctic, where you would expect to find hooded seals, but to get Sahara back to the Arctic would have meant transporting Sahara to Brussels, before boarding a plane to Greenland.

This would prove too stressful for him, and so the decision was made to take Sahara to Scotland and release him off the Orkney Isles with a clear run to Greenland.
Hooded Seal breeding ground around Greenland
Sahara in the cage on the way to ScotlandOn the 9th October 2007, Sahara and some of the sanctuary´s Animal Care Team set out for the 17 hour drive to Scotland, and the release site.

Sahara was very quiet on the journey, and only complained when the team stopped to check on him. He was obviously impatient and could not wait to get to Scotland.
On Arriving in Scotland the team and Sahara had a few hours sleep before fitting the satellite tag. The chosen tag sends back data on location and dive depth so the team could see how far he was swimming, and hopefully if he was going in the right direction.

First the tag had to be fitted and for this Sahara had to be sedated so the process would not cause him any distress.
Sahara sedated
Tamara fitting the tagIn order to help fit the tag, the team enlisted expertise from BDMLR including Scotland Co-ordinator, Jamie Dyer.

Jamie managed to restrain Sahara whilst Tamara fitted the tag. Once the glue was dry, Sahara was placed back into the crate to fully recover and then the team drove the short distance to John O´Groats and the waiting boat.
The team were met at the John O´Groats harbour by Ali Jack and his crew of the North coast Explorer.

Now fully recovered Sahara was placed in a catch-net and transferred to the boat, for the one hour's journey to the release site.
Sahara on the boat
Sahara going off the end of the boatAfter arriving six miles off the coast of Orkney, Sahara was moved to the end of the boat ready for release. The catch net was opened and Sahara made his way to the back of the boat before diving in to the sea.

He disappeared for a few seconds before resurfacing to have one last look at the team who had helped him before finally disappearing under the water. For the Sanctuary´s team, the journey ended there but for Sahara it was just the beginning...
¦ Sahara 2006-2010 ¦ Satellite tracking of Sahara´s journey ¦ Extracts from Sahara's Diary ¦ Hola Sahara ¦ SOS Sahara ¦
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