The stocks of harbor seals and grey seals off Iceland’s coast are significantly smaller than they were in 1980 in spite of hunting having been limited since them. The decrease is the most evident in Breiðafjörður and Faxaflói in the west, along the southern coast and in the East Fjords.
Seals in the Reykjavík Zoo. Photo by Páll Kjartansson.
Marine biologist Erlingur Hauksson at the Hvammstangi Seal Center told Fréttablaðið that there are mainly two reasons for this development.
“One reason could be fishing in certain areas around the country, especially lumpsucker fishing, I suspect. Off south Iceland, where there has been a significant drop in seals, one looks towards the decrease in sandeels, which was an important source of food,” he said.
According to a new report by the Icelandic Marine Research Institute on the condition of animal stocks that are exploited in Iceland, 396 seals were reported to have been killed by hunters in 2011—although the actual number is probably higher—down from almost 6,000 in 1986.
Erlingur has estimated, based on hunting statistics, that the harbor seal stock numbered at least 40,000 animals in 1900.
Its current size is approximately 11,000 animals, one third of what it was in 1980. The grey seal stock currently numbers around 6,000 animals, half of what it was one decade ago.