The impact of Sealwatching on harbour seals

The impact of Sealwatching on the behaviour and haul-out pattern of harbour seals

Two scientific articles were recently published in international scientific magazines. First author of both is Sandra Granquist head of biology research department of the Icelandic Seal Center. The articles cover Sandra’s research on the interaction between harbourseals and tourists on the Vatnsnes peninsula in the North west of Iceland.

The first articleThe effect of land based seal watching tourism on the haul-out behaviour of harbour seals (Phoca vitulina) in Iceland was published in Applied Animal Behaviour Science. Sandra’s coauthor is Hrefna Sigurjónsdóttir, professor at the University of Iceland. In their research the effect of sealwatching was investigated. The behaviour of the tourists during sealwatching was also investigated. The results show that the behaviour and spatial haul-out pattern of seals was affected by the tourists. The seals were more likely to be vigilant during periods when tourists had access to the area, compared to a period when tourists were not allowed in the area. Also the likeliness of the seals being vigilant increased as the number of tourists in the area increased. In addition, seals were more likely to be vigilant when tourists behaved in an active way. The article suggests that the impact of tourism can be minimized by developing and using codes of conduct at the sealwatching sites. The article can be accessed here:

The second article Who´s watching who? -An interdisciplinary approach to studying seal watching tourism in Icelander was published in the Journal for Cleaner Production. Sandras’s coauthor is Per-Åke Nilsson at the Mitt University in Östersund, Sverige. Mutual exchange and acceptance of research results between different academic disciplines, such as wildlife ecology and tourism research, has until recently been scarce. Absence of discipline-independent guidance on the management of wildlife tourism, in combination with a lack of knowledge-transfer from academia to society regarding how human impact can be reduced, may contribute to unintended disturbance of wildlife.  The authors introduce a methodology, where use and protection constitute equal importance within wild animal watching, by showing how a synergetic gain of combining knowledge from different academic disciplines may occur and be implemented in order to decrease potential human disturbance on harbour seals (Phoca vitulina). Further, they suggest that improved transferal of interdisciplinary research from academia to industry increases understanding of the wildlife tourism industry and has the potential to change tourist behaviour and hence minimize disturbance of wild animals. The article can be accessed here: