Estimated population size of the Icelandic harbour seal

In the summer of 2016, an aerial census of the harbour seals along the entire coast of Iceland was conducted. Such aerial censuses are important in monitoring the population size of seals. The first aerial census occurred in 1980 and in that year, the harbour seal population was estimated at about 33.000 animals. The 2016 census provided an estimate of 7.700 animals, which is considerably smaller than the 11.000 – 12.000 harbour seals estimated to inhabit Icelandic waters in the previous aerial census in 2011.

In 2014, harbour seals were counted at the largest haul-outs (places where seals congregate on shore) in Iceland and there was strong indication that the population had decreased and the results of the census last summer show this to be the case. Since 2011, the Icelandic harbour seal population has decreased by about 30%. The current population is estimated to be close to 80% smaller than it was when first investigated in 1980. According to official policy, the Icelandic harbour seal population should not fall below 12.000 animals and if it does, the government must take appropriate measures. The population is currently estimated at just under 40% of the desirable number.

The greatest decrease occurred between 1980 and 1990, when seals were directly targeted at a much higher rate than they are now. Seals are still hunted and while this may account for some of the decrease seen, seals killed as bycatch in fisheries is another factor. Other factors, such as marine warming and variations in the availability of the seals’ prey, can cause some decrease as well. Although the drop in population is considerable, it is important to have in mind that natural variations occur in wild populations and more research is needed before the major causes of the decrease in the Icelandic harbour seal population can be explained.

For the full text of the study, click here.

Website maintenance

The Seal Center website recently suffered unplanned downtime because of technical problems. We are currently working on repairs and setting up a new site. We hope to have it fully up and running in the coming days.

Thank you for your patience and sorry for the inconvenience.

Record visitor numbers at the Icelandic Seal Centre in 2016

In 2016, 39,223 guests came to the tourist information centre for Húnaþing vestra, located at the Icelandic Seal Centre. This is a 44% year on year increase compared to 2015.

Most guests visited in July, or 10,809, followed closely by August with 10,508 visitors.

Just over 30% of information centre guests visited the museum, or 11,996.

Now, in mid-January 2017, we have already welcomed triple the number of visitors we did in all of January 2016.

The Icelandic Seal Centre awarded a preparatory Artic Research grant

The Seal Center’s Tourism Research Department was successful in obtaining the grant titled “Cooperation in the Field of Arctic Studies Between Iceland and Norway.” Monday, 29th November, was their first international meeting. This grant was awarded for preparatory support for the initiation of joint grant applications to fund future research projects. This is the 1st of many future efforts in working internationally with other tourism and marine biology experts. Jessica Faustini Aquino directs this research group. 

Artic Research Grant

The Seal Center’s Tourism Research Department was successful in obtaining the grant titled “Cooperation in the Field of Arctic Studies Between Iceland and Norway.” Monday, 29th November, was their first international meeting. This grant was awarded for preparatory support for the initiation of joint grant applications to fund future research projects. This is the 1st of many future efforts in working internationally with other tourism and marine biology experts. Jessica Faustini Aquino directs this research group. 

New Report

Sandra Granquist, head of the biology department at the Icelandic Seal Centre, recently published a new report alongside Erlingur Hauksson.

The report is called MANAGEMENT AND STATUS OF THE ICELANDIC HARBOUR SEAL POPULATION: CATCHES, POPULATION ASSESSMENTS AND CURRENT KNOWLEDGE and can be found here: http://www.veidimal.is/files/Skra_0075605.pdf

 

New Researchers

On the 1st of July, two new researchers started here at the Icelandic Seal Centre. They will be led by Sandra Granquist, the head of our biological research department.

The researchers are Dr Alastair Baylis and Jóhann Garðar Þorbjörnsson.

Dr Alastair Baylis

Al gained his PhD in 2008 from the University of Adelaide (Australia) studying the foraging ecology of New Zealand fur seals in South Australia. His recent posts include the Pribilof Islands, Alaska, where he worked with the UBC Marine Mammal Research Unit on Northern fur seals and the Falkland Islands, where he has developed research projects on the little studied populations of southern sea lions and South American fur seals. His main interests in pinniped ecology include historical ecology, population dynamics, population genetics and foraging behaviour. Over the past decade he has also developed a keen interest in pinniped anaesthesia.

Jóhann Garðar Þorbjörnsson

Jóhann graduated with a B.Sc. degree in biology from the University of Iceland in 2013. In 2015, he finished his M.Sc. studies in freshwater ecology from the Hólar University College, where he researched the impacts of scuba divers on the Silfra groundwater fissure ecosystem. During his masters, he became an exchange student in Svalbard, focusing on Arctic biology. Jóhann is especially interested in the impacts of humans on biological systems.

 We are excited by these new additions to the team, and wish them all the best in their new roles.