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Suitability of two adjacent sites for seal observation in a tourism-like and citizen science context in Húsavík, Iceland

  • Milesi-Gaches, David
  • Lhériau, Alexandre
Publication Date
Jun 13, 2023
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With the decline of the pinniped population in Iceland alongside increasing wildlife watching tourism, monitoring seal colonies is of critical concern. Close to the world-class whale watching spot of Húsavík, sandbanks in the river Skjálfandafljót serve as a hauling area to a colony of Harbour seals (Phoca vitulina, Linnaeus, 1758). We documented two sites, on both banks of the river, for seal observation. Seal watching, as a touristic activity, was specifically considered. Indeed, we observed pinnipeds without specific equipment designed for science but with equipment tourists and amateurs might use. This pilot observation was designed around a 2-days fieldwork, simulating the length of stay tourists might spend near Skjálfandafljót. Data processing revealed that both sites appear to be poorly suitable to accurate and comprehensive behavioural observation (e.g., unfavourable for nursing behaviour) or amateur/general public Photo-identification (PID). Access through a private area or distance from the bank to pinnipeds are the more important limiting factors. However, specific equipment might allow a proper PID alongside alternative ways to approach the colony. We recommend only conducting basic behavioural studies or population monitoring. Seal watching tourism might also be considered despite the necessity to keep this activity low, according to local specificities, or the potential threats to biodiversity tourism can lead to.

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