The results of the 2014 Harbour Seal count have now been released.
About the Harbour Seal Count
Harbour seals (Phoca vitulina) were counted in some of the largest haul-out sites in Iceland between July and September 2014; in the West Iceland, the West fiords and the North West of Iceland. To compare different methods, the seals were counted from a Cessna aircraft and by using an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV). Harbour seals on the shores of Vatnsnes were in addition counted once from a helicopter in co-operation with the icelandic coast guard. When comparing the counting methods, it is clear that both different methods works equally well to collect data, although flying a UAV can be considered as safer for the counting personal compared with counting from a Cessna aircraft. Further, using a UAV is more time consuming and consequentally the Cessna aircraft can cover a bigger area in a shorter time. Hence, over all, using the Cessna aircraft to count harbour seals in Icelandic condition can not be considered more expensive than by using a UAV.
The results show that compared with counts from the same areas in 2011, the number of seals had decreased. In 2011, the icelandic harbour seal population was estimated to 11-12.000 seals in total. Despite decreasing harbour seal hunting in Iceland, the results from the present study indicate an annual decrease of around 30% during the period 2011 to 2014. It is important to underline that to find out the status of the harbour seal population as a whole, all haul-out sites should be counted and to get a significant result, each site should preferably be counted three times. This was however not possible in 2014, due to financial restrictions. Since there is an indication of a sever decrease in the harbour seal population in Iceland, it is of great importance to conduct a population count in 2015, when four years has passed since the last population estimate was carried out.
The project was funded by the Ministry of Industries and Innovation and is a cooperation between The Institute of Freshwater Fisheries, The Icelandic Seal Center, Vör Marine Research Center and Svarm ehf.