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Ecology, tourism and management of harbour seals (Phoca vitulina)
Stockholm University, Faculty of Science, Department of Zoology.
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 [en]
Harbour seals, Phoca vitulina, ecology, tourism, wildlife, disturbance
National Category
Ecology
Research subject
Animal Ecology
Identifiers
URN: urn:nbn:se:su:diva-134939ISBN: 978-91-7649-565-0ISBN: 978-91-7649-566-7OAI: oai:DiVA.org:su-134939DiVA: diva2:1040084
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
List of papers
1. Seasonal, meteorological, tidal and diurnal effects on haul-out patterns of harbour seals (Phoca vitulina) in Iceland
Open this publication in new window or tab >>Seasonal, meteorological, tidal and diurnal effects on haul-out patterns of harbour seals (Phoca vitulina) in Iceland
2016 (English)In: Polar Biology, ISSN 0722-4060, E-ISSN 1432-2056Article in journal (Refereed) Epub ahead of print
Abstract [en]

It is of critical importance to identify factors that affect harbour seal haul-out patterns to improve the accuracy of harbour seal censuses. In this study, haul-out patterns of harbour seals (Phoca vitulina) were investigated during different conditions at several major haul-out sites on Vatnsnes peninsula, NW Iceland (65400N and 20480W), over the 2008–2011 period. A seasonal haul-out pattern was detected among the seals, with the maximum number of seals on land found in July for most of the sites. Analyses of data for harbour seals on Vatnsnes indicate that the main pupping period occurs during late May to the beginning of June and moulting during late July to early August. Abundance at the sites increased with rising air temperature and decreased with increased windspeed and rising tides. However, no evidence that precipitation or cloud cover affected haul-out behaviour of the seals was detected. The diel haul-out pattern was investigated thoroughly in one of the haul-out sites and the results underlined the effect of tidal flucturation, air temperature and wind direction on the haul-out behaviour of harbour seals in the area. Results from this study can be used to improve the survey design when estimating the population size of harbour seals in Iceland and applied more broadly to the study of haul-out behaviour of harbour seals.

Keyword
Harbour seal, haul-out, diurnal pattern, GLM, Iceland
National Category
Biological Sciences
Research subject
Animal Ecology
Identifiers
urn:nbn:se:su:diva-134775 (URN)10.1007/s00300-016-1904-3 (DOI)
Available from: 2016-10-18 Created: 2016-10-18 Last updated: 2016-11-22
2. Diet of harbour seals in a salmon estuary in North-West Iceland
Open this publication in new window or tab >>Diet of harbour seals in a salmon estuary in North-West Iceland
2016 (English)In: Icelandic Agricultural Sciences, ISSN 1670-567X, Vol. 29, 7-19 p.Article in journal (Refereed) Published
Abstract [en]

The effect of harbour seal predation on salmonids has been frequently debated, although interactions between these species have never been thoroughly investigated in Icelandic waters prior to this study. We investigated the diet of harbour seals in a salmon estuary in NW Iceland between 2009 and 2011, using hard part analysis from collected faeces. No evidence of seal predation on salmonids was found in the study. The reconstructed weight and estimated energy content of prey species showed that flatfish was the most important species group, followed by Ammodytidae. The species group found in the highest proportion of samples during the three years combined was also Ammodytidae (45% of the samples). Ammodytidae, flatfishes and capelin dominated by numerical occurrences. However, inter- and intra-annual variation was found regarding the diet.

Keyword
hard-part analysis, seal-feaces, otolith, seal, salmon
National Category
Agricultural Science, Forestry and Fisheries Biological Sciences
Research subject
Animal Ecology
Identifiers
urn:nbn:se:su:diva-134779 (URN)10.16886/IAS.2016.02 (DOI)
Available from: 2016-10-18 Created: 2016-10-18 Last updated: 2016-11-22Bibliographically approved
3. Prey consumption of Harbour seals (Phoca vitulina) in north western Iceland: Comparing DNA metabarcoding and morphological analyses
Open this publication in new window or tab >>Prey consumption of Harbour seals (Phoca vitulina) in north western Iceland: Comparing DNA metabarcoding and morphological analyses
Show others...
(English)Manuscript (preprint) (Other academic)
Abstract [en]

Understanding ecological relationships between humans and marine predators is challenging, but crucial for the implementation of sustainable management practices. Comprehensive estimation of pinniped diet is essential for assessing their interaction with commercial fisheries as well as to increase knowledge on ecological interactions and food webs. In Iceland, salmonid fisheries are economically important and harbour seals are often culled in the vicinity of salmon estuaries to prevent potential seal predation on salmonid stocks. There is a lack of information on harbour seal diet, and due to uncertainty of the accuracy of methods traditionally used to estimate harbour seal diet (e.g. hard-part analysis of faeces) it is necessary to improve analysis methods. In this study, we investigated the diet of harbour seals hauling out in an estuary area in north western Iceland between June and September of 2010 and 2011 by DNA analysis of prey in faeces using DNA barcoding. The results were compared to previously published results from morphological analysis. Our results showed that harbour seals mainly consumed sand eels, flatfishes, gadoids, herring and capelin. Species consumed by the seals were at large in agreement with species availability in the area. The results from molecular and morphological analysis were similar in regards of important prey species. However the species diversity was lower in the morphological analysis and 37.5% of the samples included prey items that were unidentifiable in the morphological analysis. Notably, despite salmon, trout and char availability in the study area, neither of the methods found evidence of salmonids in the harbour seal diet. Since the main reason for culling harbour seals in Iceland is to reduce predation on salmonids, the finding that salmonids are not important prey species is important in terms of management implications, especially in the light of a recent severe decline in the Icelandic harbour seal population.

National Category
Ecology
Research subject
Animal Ecology
Identifiers
urn:nbn:se:su:diva-134796 (URN)
Available from: 2016-10-19 Created: 2016-10-19 Last updated: 2016-11-22Bibliographically approved
4. The effect of land based seal watching tourism on the haul-out behaviour of harbour seals (Phoca vitulina) in Iceland
Open this publication in new window or tab >>The effect of land based seal watching tourism on the haul-out behaviour of harbour seals (Phoca vitulina) in 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.

Keyword
Wildlife tourism, Harbour seal (Phoca vitulina), Vigilance, Disturbance
National Category
Biological Sciences
Research subject
Animal Ecology
Identifiers
urn:nbn:se:su:diva-103148 (URN)10.1016/j.applanim.2014.04.004 (DOI)000337998000011 ()
Available from: 2014-05-06 Created: 2014-05-06 Last updated: 2016-11-22Bibliographically approved
5. Who´s watching whom?: An interdisciplinary approach to studying seal watching tourism in Iceland
Open this publication in new window or tab >>Who´s watching whom?: An interdisciplinary approach to studying seal watching tourism in Iceland
2016 (English)In: Journal of Cleaner Production, ISSN 0959-6526, E-ISSN 1879-1786, Vol. 111, 471-478 p.Article in journal (Refereed) Published
Abstract [en]

Due to increasing interest in wildlife tourism, there is a growing need to consider the balance between use and protection of wildlife. 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. Here we present 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, we 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 minimise disturbance of wild animals. We exemplify this possibility by combining results from two case studies derived from biology and tourism research. The aim of both was to study potential human disturbance on harbour seals (P. vitulina) during land based seal-watching. The combined findings indicate that more attention should be paid to understanding and communicating the types of tourist behaviour likely to cause distress.

Keyword
Interdisciplinary, Code of conduct, Seals, Tourists, Wildlife, Stakeholder theory
National Category
Biological Sciences
Research subject
Animal Ecology
Identifiers
urn:nbn:se:su:diva-114076 (URN)10.1016/j.jclepro.2014.11.060 (DOI)
Available from: 2015-02-19 Created: 2015-02-19 Last updated: 2016-11-22Bibliographically approved
6. Interpretation in Wildlife Tourism: Assessing the effectiveness of signage on  visitor behaviour at a seal watching site in Iceland
Open this publication in new window or tab >>Interpretation in Wildlife Tourism: Assessing the effectiveness of signage on  visitor behaviour at a seal watching site in Iceland
(English)Manuscript (preprint) (Other academic)
Abstract [en]

The effectiveness of signage as a means of modifying visitor behaviour with the aim of reducing negative impacts on wildlife was assessed at a seal watching site on Vatnsnes peninsula in North West Iceland. From July to September 2014, the actions of 2440 visitors were observed and their behaviour recorded. To test whether this type of interpretive information influences human behaviour, signs with either deontological (instructions without explanation) or teleological (instructions with explanation) information were positioned along the path to the site. A control group, where no signs were provided, was also observed. Our results show that the majority of visitor behaviour was influenced when signs were present and that under some conditions teleological signs were more effective than deontological. The type of group visiting the was found to significantly influence behaviour, with families having the most intrusive behaviour compared to singles, couples or other groups. These findings contribute to a better understanding of how interpretative signage can modify tourist behaviour to facilitate sustainable wildlife tourism. The use of teleological signs for managing wildlife tourism activities is recommended because they are at least as effective as deontological signs. In addition, signage and other management strategies should address the different needs and responses relevant to the nature of the tourist group visiting the site. Special focus should be placed on families when signs are designed because this group type showed the highest probability of causing disturbance at the site.

Keyword
Interpretation, Wildlife, Disturbance, Behaviour, Teleological, Deontological
National Category
Biological Sciences
Research subject
Animal Ecology
Identifiers
urn:nbn:se:su:diva-134797 (URN)
Available from: 2016-10-19 Created: 2016-10-19 Last updated: 2016-11-22Bibliographically approved

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