A new research paper on the origin and expansion of harbour seals

Recently, a paper on harbour seal origin and distribution based on genetic studies was published in the scientific journal Molecular Ecology. It´s titled is Origin and expansion of the world’s most widespread pinniped: Range-wide population genomics of the harbour seal (Phoca vitulina)“. Sandra M. Granquist, a specialist at the pelagic division at the Marine and Freshwater Research Institute and Head of department at The Icelandic Seal Center is one of the authors.

The harbour seal (Phoca vitulina) is the most widely distributed pinniped, occupying a wide variety of habitats and climatic zones across the Northern Hemisphere. Intriguingly, the harbour seal is also one of the most philopatric seals, raising questions as to how it colonised virtually the whole of the Northern Hemisphere. To shed light on the origin, remarkable range expansion, population structure and genetic diversity of this species, we used genotyping‐by‐sequencing to analyse ~13,500 biallelic SNPs from 286 individuals sampled from 22 localities across the species’ range. Our results point to a Northeast Pacific origin, colonisation of the North Atlantic via the Canadian Arctic, and subsequent stepping‐stone range expansions across the North Atlantic from North America to Europe, accompanied by a successive loss of genetic diversity. Our analyses further revealed a deep divergence between modern North Pacific and North Atlantic harbour seals, with finer‐scale genetic structure at regional and local scales consistent with strong philopatry. The study provides new insights into the harbour seal’s remarkable ability to colonise and adapt to a wide range of habitats. Furthermore, it has implications for current harbour seal subspecies delineations and highlights the need for international and national red lists and management plans to ensure the protection of genetically and demographically isolated populations.

You can find the paper here:


Population estimate and advice regarding the harbor seal 2021

A new population estimate for Icelandic harbor seal and hunting policy advice are available in the project between the Icelandic Seal Center (ICS) and The Marine and Freshwater Research Institute (MFRI). MFRI and ICS recommend that direct hunting of harbor seals remain limited and that improved measures be taken to reduce seal bycatch in net fisheries, to allow the seal population to reach the management threshold set by the government. Additionally, the MFRI and ICS recommend that measures be taken to limit human disturbance of harbor seals where possible, especially during the pupping and molting season from May-August.

Link to the advice—Icelandic only.

The advice is based on the recently completed harbor seal population size estimate conducted by the MFRI, in conjunction with the Icelandic Seal Center. The estimate is based on an aerial census conducted in the summer of 2020.

Link to the technical report.

According to the estimate, the harbor seal population is about 10,300 animals, which is 69% less than in the first estimate in 1980. The estimate shows an increase of 9% over the last calculated estimate from 2018. The results from recent years suggest that the population is fluctuating around a historical minimum. According to the government’s management objectives, the minimum threshold should be 12,000 seals. Since the results of the new estimate are 14% below the threshold, further conservation measures are necessary.

A more detailed description of the 2020 census, divided by regions and compared to previous censuses is available in a new report published in the journal Marine and Freshwater Research (Haf- og vatnarannsókir).

Link to the newest report about the Icelandic harbor seal.

Seals and environmental changes

Recently, the Marine and Freshwater Research Institute published a large report on the status of ecosystems around Iceland and the effect of environmental and climate change. The report is in Icelandic (there is no English version) and the title is “Staða umhverfis og vistkerfa í hafinu við Ísland og horfur næstu áratuga.” One of the chapters describes the status of seal populations around Iceland and the possible effects of environmental change. This chapter is authored by Sandra Granquist, head of Seal Research Department at the Icelandic Seal Center and seal specialist at the Marine and Freshwater Research Institute. The chapter starts on page 100.

The full report can be found here:


Open Lecture by Zoë Drion – 7.10.2021 – 20:00

In Belgium, the Hautes Fagnes State Nature Reserve is home to a very special bird the Black Grouse It is an emblematic and protected species, of which only a few individuals
remain The predation of the Red Fox on this bird is one of the obstacles to its survival.

In order to take adequate management measures to promote the recovery of the Black Grouse, it is necessary to study the local fox population, of which little is currently known.

During this talk I will present the findings of my master thesis. Its double objective was to estimate the current number of foxes in the area using camera traps and to see how the population has evolved since the 1980’s by studying the history of fox sightings.