Review on utilization and research on harbour seal (Phoca vitulina) in Iceland


  • Erlingur Hauksson Fornistekkur 14, IS-109 Reykjavík, Iceland
  • Sólmundur T Einarsson Breiðvangi 71, IS-220 Hafnarfjörður, Iceland



harbour seals, Iceland, hunting, research, abundance


Harbour seals (Phoca vitulina) have been harvested in Iceland since the first settlers arrived in the 9th century. Pups were generally netted, clubbed and harpooned until 1875 when general use of guns for hunting began. Seal-hunting has been traditional amongst the farms legal rights. Seal hunting was an important supplement to other economic resources. Harbour seal skins, salted ordried, were exported and large dataset of catch statistics is available from trading logbooks since the late 19th century. In the early 20th century catch was about 6,000. In the ‘bounty’ period 1982 – 1989, maximum catches were of 4,000 animals with about 350 hunters participated; in 2006 catches were only about 100 animals with 18 hunters. After 1989 the population continued to decline even though catches decreased markedly. Unreported by-catch in fishing gear, hunt for local consumption and shooting of seals swimming in salmon rivers estuaries may have kept the total removal from the stock above sustainable levels. A considerable Icelandic knowledge base had been compiled about the biology of the harbour seal since the late 16th century, with the first written reference in 1588-1589. In the last decades, research on various aspects of its biology and monitoring have been intensified, with focus on abundance, distribution, diet and nematode infestation. The main results show that the Icelandic harbour seal population - has declined annually about 5% in the period 1980-2006, - was most abundant on the NW-coast, - feeds mainly on sand-eels and gadoids, - and was less infected with anisakid nematodes than grey seals. Seal watching, as a low-consumptive indirect utilization, may represent a new economical opportunity if properly regulated.




How to Cite

Hauksson, E., & Einarsson, S. T. (2010). Review on utilization and research on harbour seal (<i>Phoca vitulina</i>) in Iceland. NAMMCO Scientific Publications, 8, 341–353.