New harbour seal census

Photo: Sandra M. Granquist

The Marine and Freshwater Research Institute has, in cooperation with the Icelandic Seal Center, completed a new harbour seal census. The report can be found here. The harbour seal population is estimated to be 9400 animals. Regular population censuses were initiated in 1980 to monitor trends in the population size of Icelandic harbour seals. The current estimate is 72% smaller than in 1980, but 23% larger than in 2016 when the last complete population census was conducted.

Most of the observed decrease in the population occurred between the years 1980 and 1989. Results indicate that the population currently seems to fluctuate around a minimum stock level.

The current estimate is 21% below the governmentally issued management objective for the minimum population size of harbour seals in Iceland (12,000 animals).

To raise the numbers in the population to match the management objective, the Marine and Freshwater Research Institute (MFRI) advises that direct hunting should be banned and that actions must be taken to reduce by-catch of seals in commercial fisheries. If limited hunting will be allowed, MFRI advises that a hunting management system should be initiated, and that reporting of all seal hunts should be mandatory. MFRI further advises that attempts to minimize anthropogenic disturbance of harbour seal colonies are initiated, in particular during breeding and moulting seasons between May and August. The advice can be found here.