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:


Icelandic Seal Center and the Arctic Coast Way

The Icelandic Seal Center is part of the Arctic Coast Way (Norðurstrandaleið), which is Iceland’s new and northernmost tourist route. The route covers 900 km of the Nordic coastline, six peninsulas, and six islands.

Hvítserkur - Norðurstrandarleið
Hvítserkur – Norðurstrandarleið – Arctic Coast Way

The North Shore route turns its back on trodden paths and directs the tourist into the sparse and remote – to explore the north coast of Iceland in the immediate vicinity of the Arctic Circle. The North Shore route runs along the entire coastline, from Hvammstangi in the west to Bakkafjörður in the east.

Arctic Coast Way – summer route

The Great Seal Count in Iceland 2022

Volunteers Needed at the Icelandic Seal Center
Come join us for our annual Great Seal Count at the Icelandic Seal Center. We need groups of volunteers to count seals along the coastline of the Vatnsnes Peninsula.

Saturday, July 30 at 09.00, the Great Seal Count will be held by the Icelandic Seal Center in Hvammstangi. We encourage everyone to participate, whether you are a local, landowner, or tourist on your trip around the country. Participation gives people the opportunity to see harbor seals in their natural environment.

Program for the counting day:

At 09:00 is the delivery of data, presentation, and training at the Seal Center. Coffee and drinks are available for participants.

At 10.30-14.00, the seal count takes place and it is good to have binoculars with you.
When you are finished, registration of data online or submission of data inbox at the Icelandic Seal Center.

More information about registration later