Changes in the Icelandic harbour seal population over a 40 year period

The picture was taken during the aerial census of 2020 (Sandra Granquist)

A new paper about trends in the Icelandic harbour seal population was recently published. The title of the paper is “The Icelandic harbour seal (Phoca vitulina) population: trends over 40 years (1980–2020) and current threats to the population”. Sandra Granquist, Head of Seal research department and senior reseacher at the Marine and Freshwater Research Institute of Iceland is the author of the paper. Below is a summary of the paper (abstract) and a link to the paper.


Regular harbour seal (Phoca vitulina) population censuses are necessary to monitor fluctuations in the population size and to inform seal management. In this paper, the status of the Icelandic harbour seal population is presented, along with trends in the population over a 40-year period. In total, 13 full aerial censuses were carried out during the moulting season (July-August) between 1980 and 2020. The most recent census from 2020 yielded an estimate of 10,319 (CI 95%= 6,733-13,906) animals, indicating that the population is 69.04% smaller than when systematic monitoring of the population commenced in 1980 (33,327 seals). The observed decrease puts the population on the national red list for threatened populations. Trend analyses indicate that most of the decline occurred during the first decade, when the population decreased about 50% concurrently with large human-induced removals of harbour seals. After that point, the population decline slowed down but continued, and currently the population seems to fluctuate around a stable minimum level. The sensitive conservation status of the population underlines the need to assess and sustainably manage current threats to the population, including human-induced removals, anthropogenic disturbance, and various environmental factors such as contaminants, climate change and fluctuation in prey availability. Furthermore, it is urgent to continue regular censuses and to increase monitoring of population demographic factors.

Click here to go to the full text

New Paper Published

A new paper titled Gender difference in biospheric values and opinions on nature management actions: The case of seal watching in Iceland was published in the peer-reviewed journal Ocean & Coastal Management. It can be accessed here. It was written by Cécile M. Chauvat, who works for the Northwest Iceland Research Center in collaboration with the Icelandic Seal Center, Dr. Sandra M. Granquist from the Marine and Freshwater Research Institute and Head of the seal research department at the Icelandic Seal Center, and Dr. Jessica Aquino, Assistant Professor in the department of Rural Tourism at Hólar University.

Gender differences in biospheric value orientation and opinions on wildlife management have the potential to be used as a management tool in wildlife watching settings. This research note builds on a dataset from Chauvat et al. (2021) to investigate gender differences in biospheric value orientation and opinions on seal watching management of visitors at seal watching sites post hoc. Questionnaires (n = 597) were collected at three sites in Northwest Iceland. It was found that when genders were compared, women had stronger biospheric value orientations, were more aware of potential anthropogenic impacts on seals, believed to a higher extent that regulations were useful in terms of decreasing impact, and were more positive towards most management actions suggested in the questionnaire. It is argued that further understanding of the gender dynamics regarding pro-environmental attitudes may be a valuable element in the context of sustainable wildlife tourism management.

New manager at Icelandic Seal Center

Notice from the Icelandic Seal Center. The ISC has hired Örvar Birkir Eiríksson as managing director as of the beginning of the year.

Gunnlaugur Ragnarsson is chairman of the board ISC and Örvar Birkir Eiríksson is the new manager.

Örvar is born in 1976 and grew up in Syðri-Vellir in Kirkjuhvammshreppur in Vestur-Húnavatns county. He has been a frequent visitor to the homestead through the years, where his parents still live. Örvar, therefore, has a great and strong connection with the community in Húnaþing vestra.

Örvar has a Bachelor’s degree in history from the University of Iceland and also studied for an MA in the same subject and a diploma in marketing and export studies. Most recently, he completed his M.Ed. degree in teaching social studies from the University of Iceland. Örvar is married to Erla Björgvinsdóttir, a developmental therapist, and they have a total of five children.

Örvar worked i.a. for about 7 years in Viðey in cultural tourism and for 9 years as a store manager in an international retail chain. In recent years he has worked as a teacher.

The board of ICS welcomes Örvar to work and looks forward to working with him. At the same time, the board thanks Páll L Sigurðsson very much for his cooperation and work well done and wishes him all the best in the future.

Old and new manager of ISC

Gunnlaugur Ragnarsson
Chairman of the Board ISC

Icelandic Seal Center renews its agreement with the Marine & Freshwater Research Institue

The Icelandic Seal Center (ISC) and the Icelandic Marine & Freshwater Research Institute renewed their cooperation agreement at the end of October 2022. The agreement stipulates the strengthening of research on seals in Iceland at the Hvammstanga facility. In particular, monitoring the population size of wild and land seals. In addition to carrying out data collection and research that contributes to the improvement of advice in accordance with the management objectives of the government.

The parties agree to look for ways to increase the number of employees so that the research activities of the Seal Center and the Institute of Marine Research in Hvammstangi can be strengthened. The agreement is open-ended and Seal Center s is optimistic about the future.

Seal site and research area in Illugastaðir Vatnsnes