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.

A new project beginning

On Friday 28 June at 09:00, Cécile Chauvat will be giving a presentation on her research proposal about biospheric values of tourists at seal watching spots in North-Western Iceland. Cécile’s research will assess the correlation between biospheric values of tourists and their knowledge of their impacts on the biosphere.

A new person joins our team

Naturalist, Einar Ó. Þorleifsson, has taken the reins of a new job with the Northwest Iceland Nature Centre, inconjuction with  the Icelandic Seal Center. He has a degree in geography with concentrations in biology and geology. Einar has spent countless hours over many years studying birds. His specialties are wetlands ecology and wetland birds. In addition, Einar has participated in a wide body of research on the distribution of birds in Iceland, especially those that settled Iceland from the Twentieth Century until today.

Einar will be working on various natural science studies, most based in ornithology, in the wide area under the purview of the Northwest Iceland Nature Centre. His main office is provided by the Icelandic Seal Center in Hvammstangi.

Those who would like to share information about interesting birds (for instance, new nesting sites) or discoveries of plants or unusual geological phenomena are welcome to look to him for more information.

Sustainable Tourism Development in the Nordic Arctic

The Icelandic Seal Center has been invited to join a research network called, “Sustainable Tourism Development in the Nordic Arctic.” Dr. Jessica Aquino, Head of Tourism Research, will be ISC’s representative for the network. The aims of this network are to investigate how to utilize existing human capital, natural resources (especially living marine resources), and infrastructure capacity to develop innovative sustainable tourism that can diversify and make Arctic economic development more resilient. This is to be achieved through three interrelated workshops in the Arctic regions of the Nordic countries. The first workshop was hosted in Northern Norway in April 2018. The seconded workshop will be hosted in Northern Iceland from 18-22 March 2019. Funding for this network is provided by NordRegio, UArctic, and the International Network Program of the Danish Agency for Science and Higher Education.

Icelandic Culture and Nature marked as “Good Practice Example”

In 2018 Húnaklúbburinn invited a youth group from Sweden to join us in Hvammstangi to learn about each other’s culture and our connection with nature. The project was funded by Erasmus+ and supported by Húnaþing vestra, Félagsmiðstöðin Órion, Hólar University College, and the Icelandic Seal Center. This project was marked as a “Good Practice Example.”

Projects such as Húnaklúbburinn are a great example of university-community partnerships that sees communities as intellectual spaces. Húnaklúbburinn’s collaborative efforts enable the youth, and those who are interested in strengthening youth programs, to participate effectively in their community to achieve a common good.

Húnaklúbburinn is a children’s nature club, established in 2016 for the youth of Húnaþing vestra, with the purpose of connecting youth and nature by using a combination of environmental education and nature-based recreation. It has two basic principles, that children have the right and responsibility in shaping their own futures and the futures of their communities; and that children develop a genuine appreciation of the natural environment—and a sense of their own competence—through direct interaction with nature.

Jessica Aquino manages and directs Húnaklúbburinn. She is also an Assistant professor at Hólar University College and is Head of the Tourism Research Department at the Icelandic Seal Center.