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The effect of land based seal watching tourism on the haul-out behaviour of harbour seals (Phoca vitulina) in Iceland
Stockholm University, Faculty of Science, Department of Zoology. Institute of Freshwater Fisheries, Iceland; Icelandic Seal Center, Iceland.
2014 (English)In: Applied Animal Behaviour Science, ISSN 0168-1591, E-ISSN 1872-9045, Vol. 156, 85-93 p.Article in journal (Refereed) Published
Abstract [en]

The effect of land-based seal watching on the haul-out pattern of harbour seals (Phoca vitulina) was investigated between June and August of 2008-2010 on Vatnsnes, NW Iceland. The results showed that the behaviour and spatial haul-out pattern of seals was affected by the tourists. In 2009 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, in 2010 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. During the post weaning period, which coincided with the peak of the tourist season, a significantly higher proportion of seals hauled out on the skerry located farthest away from land, compared to a skerry closer to land. Seals also preferred to haul out further away from land when the number of tourists in the area increased. Single tourists and couples behaved more passively compared to families and tourist groups of more than two adults. All tourist group types were significantly more active in an approaching zone than in the seal watching zone. Education of tourists, for example through a code of conduct built on these results, is advisable to minimise disturbance of seals in the area.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
2014. Vol. 156, 85-93 p.
Keyword [en]
Wildlife tourism, Harbour seal (Phoca vitulina), Vigilance, Disturbance
National Category
Biological Sciences
Research subject
Animal Ecology
Identifiers
URN: urn:nbn:se:su:diva-103148DOI: 10.1016/j.applanim.2014.04.004ISI: 000337998000011OAI: oai:DiVA.org:su-103148DiVA: diva2:715857
Available from: 2014-05-06 Created: 2014-05-06 Last updated: 2017-12-05Bibliographically approved
In thesis
1. Ecology, tourism and management of harbour seals (Phoca vitulina)
Open this publication in new window or tab >>Ecology, tourism and management of harbour seals (Phoca vitulina)
2016 (English)Doctoral thesis, comprehensive summary (Other academic)
Abstract [en]

In cases where human and wildlife are co-using the same geographical areas and resources, management issues often get complex and stakeholder conflicts are common. The Icelandic harbour seal (Phoca vitulina) population is rapidly decreasing, but direct culling of seals still occurs. At the same time seals are becoming an important resource due to increased interest in wildlife watching. Despite the complicated management situation, the Icelandic harbour seal population is one of the least studied pinniped populations in the world. Mapping the typical haul-out pattern is an important foundation for further studies. In paper I haul-out behaviour of harbour seals was investigated and a seasonal haul-out pattern was detected with the maximum number of seals hauling out during summer. A bimodal distribution curve was found during the summer time, suggesting that pupping period occurs in late May to early June, while moulting occurs in late July to early August. Tidal state, air-temperature and wind-speed affected the haul-out boots. Today, the main reason for culling harbour seals in Iceland is to reduce harbour seal predation on salmonids, despite limited knowledge on the effect of seal predation on salmonid populations and salmon angling. The diet of harbour seals that haul out in the estuary area of Bjargós and Ósar in NW-Iceland was therefore investigated using hard-part (paper II) and DNA metabarcoding analysis (paper III). Both methods showed that the main prey species were sand eels, flatfishes, gadoids, herring and capelin, while salmonids were not an important prey in this area. Based on these results, culling of harbour seals in the area is not likely to have a positive effect on salmonid angling. These results have crucial management implications, especially in the light of the severe decline in the Icelandic harbour seal population. Potential effects of seal watching tourism on the harbour seal population must also be considered in management plans. In paper IV, we investigated the effects of land based seal watching on seal behaviour and found that spatial distribution and vigilance was affected by tourists. Calm tourists behaviour had less effect, meaning that disturbance could be reduced if tourist behaviour is modified. In paper V, this line of investigation was followed by analysing knowledge transfer from academia to the tourist industry and a model was presented where a synergy effect of working interdisciplinary is hypothesised. Finally, in paper VI, the effect of signage on tourist behaviour was studied. Empirical testing showed that teleological information is more effective than ontological in terms of modifying general tourist behaviour. In this thesis, I present new knowledge on behaviour and diet of harbour seals, as well as new empirical findings on tourist behaviour in wildlife tourism settings. Further I explore interdisciplinary management approaches for seal watching tourism. The findings presented in this thesis have an important value within academic research in environmental-, life- and social sciences and the knowledge can be applied in several areas of harbour seal management in Iceland and elsewhere.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Stockholm: Department of Zoology, Stockholm University, 2016. 21 p.
Keyword
Harbour seals, Phoca vitulina, ecology, tourism, wildlife, disturbance
National Category
Ecology
Research subject
Animal Ecology
Identifiers
urn:nbn:se:su:diva-134939 (URN)978-91-7649-565-0 (ISBN)978-91-7649-566-7 (ISBN)
Public defence
2016-12-16, Vivi Täckholmsalen (Q-salen), NPQ-huset, Svante Arrhenius väg 20, Stockholm, 13:00 (English)
Opponent
Supervisors
Note

At the time of the doctoral defense, the following papers were unpublished and had a status as follows: Paper 3: Manuscript. Paper 6: Manuscript.

Available from: 2016-11-23 Created: 2016-10-26 Last updated: 2016-11-28Bibliographically approved

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