2022 Seal Center Research Symposium – Abstracts

The Icelandic seal center. An overview of the organization (Páll L. Sigurðsson)

The organization‘s main goal is to run a seal museum, research department, and information center in the center of Hvammstangi, where the seal and the national culture play a major role. The Seal Travel agency is owned by Seal Center, supports the tourism industry in the area and the income goes to finance the Seal Center. What makes us special is that Icelandic Seal center is community-owned, “works” for the tourism industry in Húnaþing vestra and is a non-profit company. What makes us unique is that the exhibition at the Icelandic Seal Center is connected to nature and built on Vatnsnes, and the headquarters of seal research in Iceland are here with us in Hvammstangi.

Seal research in Iceland: A overview of the work carried out at the Seal Research Department in cooperation with The Marine and Freshwater Research Institute (Sandra M. Granquist)

Two pinniped populations breed in Iceland; harbour seals and grey seals and seal research in Iceland has focussed on these species. Sever decreases have occurred in both populations since censuses commenced 1980 and both seal populations are currently on the Icelandic Red List for Threatened Populations. Anthropogenic interactions such as due to the fishing industry and the recently increasing tourism industry in Iceland has the potential to affect seal abundance. Therefore, increased research to ensure evidence-based management is important. In this presentation, an overview of the main seal research projects in Iceland will be given, results summarized and implications for seal populations and the society discussed.

An overview of the work carried out at the Tourism Research Department in cooperation with Hólar University (Jessica Aquino)

Abstract to come

Interactions between seals and tourists based on trail camera observations (Hólmfríður Jakobsdóttir)

Tourism has been increasing in Iceland over the last decade, as well as interest in seal watching has been growing over the past years. Despite the increase in tourism and the growing interest in seal watching the effect on ecotourism on wildlife populations in Iceland is very limited. In this project automatic trail cameras are used to observe the behaviour and abundance of harbour seals at haul out sites on Vatnsnes peninsula, Northwest Iceland. The effect of tourism on seal behaviour will be evaluated by comparing a site with seal watching tourism to sites without tourism over the summers of 2020-2022. As well as the effect of environmental factors on behaviour of harbour seals at haul outs will be evaluated. Understanding the effect tourism has on harbour seals is of vital importance for accurate management and conservation of the harbour seal population, such as developing appropriated guidelines for seal-watching.

Vocal communications among harbour seals (Margaret Lawler)

Harbour seals (Phoca vitulina) communicate on land for a wide variety of reasons, ranging from pup localization to mating calls. Female harbour seals need to be able to communicate with their pups to ensure that they can locate each other during the beginning of their lives.  Harbour seals also communicate during the mating/moulting period of the summer, typically these vocalizations occur between males in an agonistic manner. We will be using microphones to record vocalizations and determine the types of vocalizations that are being used by seals in this area.  The aim of this study is to learn how harbour seals communicate with each other during different periods of the summer (pupping, feeding, and mating/moulting) at two different sites (Svalbarð and Illugastaðir) at Vatnsnes peninsula, NW Iceland, and how the periods compare to each other.  There will also be observations conducted at Osar to link vocalization type to behaviours.  This is research that has never been done in Iceland, and it can potentially be used in the future to identify individuals and estimate site fidelity.

Welfare and behaviour in stabled Icelandic horses (Vibeke Thoresen)

The traditional way of keeping horses in Iceland is to have them stabled during wintertime and some horses are stabled throughout the whole year. Healthy, stress-free horses have a very consistent daily pattern, and a time budget analysis can help evaluate the equine wellbeing. The amount of time the horse engages in behavioural activities is considered a very informative welfare indicator. In this project the aim is to measure time budgets and frequencies of behaviours which reflect welfare of horses kept indoors, both in single and double stalls. The approach is to analyse time budgets of 16 stabled horses and compare to known time budgets of Icelandic horses kept in spacious pastures at different time of year. Secondly, behaviour of horses kept alone in a stall will be compared to those with a companion in a double stall.  Also, young horses will be compared to middle aged horses and mares to geldings.  Once data analysis has been complete, results will have implications for horse welfare in stables.

The YAN Handbook: Engaging discovery, play, and learning in connection with the arctic nature (Deisi Trindade Maricato)

The free online handbook creation project is a guide to activities whose main objective was to promote a greater connection between young groups with the nature of their local community and to encourage educators to integrate this local nature into their teaching practice using activities with a focus on interdisciplinary and playful.

The project reinforces the importance of including young groups with intellectual or physical disabilities in all handbook activities, promoting respect for the realities of each individual. In this way, through a language based on socio-constructivist methodology and the use of the place-based method, the Handbook presents educational activities cantered on the student, favouring cultural and social identity, and mainly respecting human diversity.

Community perceptions of tourism in rural communities in Nordic Countries – Literature review and resident survey (Sarah Walter)

It is widely acknowledged that residents are pivotal stakeholders in the tourism industry. The successful development of a sustainable tourism model at a destination hinge on the local management understanding the perspective of residents and involving them in every step of the process. The objective of this research is to examine how residents perceive tourism development in Húnaþing vestra, Iceland, to propel sustainable tourism destination management in the area. First, a systematic quantitative literature review was performed to provide a novel synthesis of literature on residents’ perception of tourism in rural Nordic destinations. Findings showed that case studies from Norway dominate this field. While the methodological base is diversified, the domain is yet to fully venture into longitudinal studies, cross-disciplinary research designs, non-traditional methods like scenario workshops and theoretical certainty. In the second stage of the project, a resident survey will be distributed amongst residents of Húnaþing vestra. The questionnaire will deliver insights into; a) what tourism impacts residents perceive; b) what preferences they have for future tourism development; and c) how they feel about local participation in tourism development in Húnaþing vestra.

The Phonic Fingerprint of Commercial Vessels (Brontë Harris)

Ever growing maritime industries have flooded the world’s oceans and coastal waters with increasing numbers of commercial vessels, which has significantly increased ambient noise levels across many marine ecosystems. Each of these vessels will produce its own signature acoustic signal, depending on the various physical features of the vessel and the abiotic conditions. This thesis will investigate such acoustic signatures belonging to commercial vessels within Skjálfandi Bay, Iceland, carrying cargo from Húsavík Harbour to the PCC silicate smelting plant in Bakki. Using acoustic data collected in September 2018, the main questions of this thesis are: Do individual vessels emit distinct acoustic signals? Do these distinct signals attributed to each vessel vary based on key parameters such as speed, vessel class and gross weight? Do the recorded acoustic signatures overlap with existing studies and data on the acoustic signals of similar vessel types? This would allow each vessels acoustic signature to be characterised, which in the future may provide greater insight into the impact vessel noise is having on ambient noise levels and marine ecosystems.

The competition between three varieties of plants (Florence Martin)

Competition is an interaction in which two individuals fight for a limited resource. This phenomenon could therefore be a cause of the decline of some populations. The study of morphological traits seems interesting to highlight this competition. The aim of this experiment is to study various morphological traits that are likely to reflect a competitive effect of spelt on three different Bromus species. This could lead to a justification of the different levels of decline of the three Bromus species studied. A complete randomized blocks experiment was conducted in a greenhouse and at home at the same time. The results of this experiment are opposites to those presented in the pre-existing scientific literature. Nevertheless, these must be taken cautiously. Deeper studies should then be conducted to introduce a more suitable method to allow the full comprehension of the competition phenomenon between Bromus species and spelt.

Can Belgian bark beetle infested spruce wood be recycled as biochar? (Myriam Kains)

The amount of bark beetle infested spruce wood keeps rising since 2018 partly due to climate change, resulting in market saturation and massive exports to Asia. The challenge is therefore to find new products using bark beetle infested wood as raw material, and biochar could be one of these products. Therefore, the aim of this project is to evaluate the quality of biochar made from bark beetle wood to determine whether it is a possible outlet for this crisis and assess the economic and environmental status of biochar in Belgium. To evaluate the mineralogical characteristics of biochar, the concentration of Mg, Ca, K, C, H and O of 6 different samples were studied varying according to two factors: the condition factor (wood or biochar) and the health factor (healthy, fresh bark infested, dead bark infested). The statistical analysis concluded that biochar concentrates the elements Mg, K and Ca significantly compared to wood. The health factor has no impact on the concentration of the different elements except for K, which is much higher in the case of the fresh bark-infested samples. The study of the economic status of biochar in the Belgian market revealed that it is still a product in full development, which could imply difficulties in its commercialization. Although the results of the analyses suggest that barked wood produces good quality biochar, this would not be an economically viable solution for the current market.