Washed up and underfed, Neptune the seal was not in a good state when rescued in July last year. But after five months of tender loving care the marine mammal was full of life when he ventured into Peterborough earlier this month.
Neptune was expertly captured by amateur photographer Rob Hancock splashing about at the Peterborough Rowing Lake in Thorpe Meadows three Saturdays ago.
A pleasantly surprised Rob spent an hour snapping away as Neptune - who was identified by an RSPCA officer - chewed on a bench and chased swans around in front of amused onlookers.
“He was just having a whale of a time,” said Rob. “He was basking and swimming around.
“There were quite a few people and it seemed that he turned around and smiled at them, though I doubt that was the case.”
Photography is a hobby for Rob (28) of Belsize Avenue, Woodston.
His trips to the lake normally involve him photographing the dogs who are roaming around, but this time a lump in the water alerted him to a presence lurking in the waters.
Rob said: “I was just surprised he was so far from where he was supposed to be. He took a leap off a bank occasionally and was chasing a swan around.”
Neptune may have been spotted playing about joyfully in the water, but it was only eight months ago that the happy-go-lucky seal was picked up by the RSPCA East Winch Wildlife Centre.
Neptune was brought in by the Hunstanton Sea Life Sanctuary after being spotted on his own at Overstrand Beach, Norfolk. The common seal was thought to have been orphaned and weighed just 11.1 kilograms.
But the wildlife centre fed him three kilos of fish a day and let him swim both inside and outside as he returned to a normal weight and learned to look after himself.
And on December 14, now weighing a much sturdier 40 kilos, Neptune was released back into the wild with a tag on him so he can be identified.
Rob, a web developer with sports fitness company 66 Fit, believes his photographs of Neptune are up there with the best he has taken.
He added: “He was clearly enjoying himself in the sunshine. It was a lucky opportunity to get pictures of him - a pleasant surprise.”
Seals are no strangers to Peterborough’s waters. A one-eyed seal was spotted in Orton Mere in January this year and the famous Sammy the Seal caused a big splash all the way back in 2007 when he was first seen in the River Nene.
To see more of Rob’s photographs, visit https://500px.com/robh537.
The RSPCA East Winch Wildlife Centre has a wish list on the website Amazon. See http://tinyurl.com/gmuc2tu.