Visitor numbers and turnover for the museum and travel services section of the Icelandic Seal Centre, H1 2017

Turnover down 27% in June Year on Year (YoY)

YoY comparison is difficult for the first four months of the year, as the Icelandic Seal Centre had regular and advertised opening hours for the first time during the winter in this winter just passed. As a result, the period of January-April shows a healthy increase in total visitor numbers and turnover. Total visitor number includes guest that only visit the Information Centre, as well as those guests that paid an entry fee to the museum. Total guests in January were 301, in February 438, in March 1,219, and in April total guests were 1,283. The total number of guests for the first four months of 2017 was therefore 3,241, compared to 1,860 for the same period in 2016 – or a 74% increase, during the same period turnover increased by 58%. It is worth reiterating, however, that the opening hours YoY are not comparable and these numbers need to viewed in that context. It is also worth pointing out that the total number of visitors for these 4 months is lower than that for May alone.

Opening hours in May and June are comparable, however.

In May 2017 the total number of guests was 3,312, which is a 1% decrease YoY. During the same period total turnover decreased 17% YoY. Interestingly, the number of guests that paid to enter the museum increased by 6% YoY for the same period, and the museum is therefore a larger part of total turnover than before.

In June 2017 the total number of guests was 6,941, which is a 6% increase compared to 2016. During the same period total turnover decreased 27% YoY. Interestingly, the number of guests that paid to enter the museum increased by 14% YoY for the same period, and the museum is therefore a larger part of total turnover than before.

Entry fees for the museum have not gone up since 2012, products from Icelandic suppliers have remained static in price in ISK YoY, and a stronger Icelandic króna and changes in customs have resulted in products imported by the Seal Centre itself being cheaper this year than last in ISK.

 

The Camera Trap Project

The first images from one of our trail cameras shows two skerries and some seals with pups in the center of the bottom of the frame.

A new project is underway. Researchers are collaborating with museum staff in a project to assess the viability of a new site to develop for seal watching and outdoor recreation on Vatnsnes. In order to do this, we have set up two camera traps that record photographs at a set interval of time all day. Researchers then stop in to collect memory cards once each week while they are out counting seals at known haul-outs.

Seals prefer hauling out on skerries that are separated from land by a channel of water. Many of these skerries are more than 100 m from land. In order to set up automatic cameras to photograph seals up close would mean attaching the cameras directly to the skerry. This may be done at some point in the future if funding is acquired. In that case, we would be setting up cameras on those skerries that rise far enough out of the water to remain exposed at high tide. That does not fall within the scope of this pilot project, but is certainly something we are interested in. The cameras we have set up are easily accessible from land with minimal disturance of the seals in the area. If we get the chance to put cameras on serries, we will expect to leave them there for a much longer period between maintenance trips, so as to avoid disturbing the seals.

Installation of one of the trail cameras at the top of the cliff overlooking the skerries we want to monitor

The trail cameras that we currently own needed to be placed at some distance from where the seals haul out. At the location we have chosen, there are two skerries close together and the landowner has told us that a large group of seals congregates here with some regularity. So, we set up two cameras to cover the entirety of the two skerries. These cameras will be in place for some months. All seals observed will be recorded and that data will contribute to the assessment of this location as a possible new seal watching site.

The trail camera is at the top of the cliff on the right hand side of the frame.

Photographs from this project will soon be on display at the Seal Center Museum in Hvammstangi. Looking carefully at images such as these that are taken from some distance is a good way to train your eye to recognize seals even before you can see them clearly. Seals are often easily visible from Iceland’s coastal roads, if you know what to look for. While there are some designated seal watching areas on Vatnsnes and in a few other places in Iceland, a vigilant passenger in the car is likely to spot seals in unmarked spots. Photographs such as the one above can help you to find seals here and elsewhere.

As with many of the projects conducted here, funding for this project comes from outside the Seal Center. Specifically, we appreciate the funding we have received from the National Marine Aquarium for this project.

http://www.national-aquarium.co.uk/

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 Center awarded a preparatory Arctic 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 first of many future efforts in working internationally with other tourism and marine biology experts. Jessica Faustini Aquino directs this research group. 

Arctic 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 first 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