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Drones Used to Count Seals

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Drones Used to Count Seals

Seals at the Reykjavík Zoo.

Seals at the Reykjavík Zoo. Photo: Páll Kjartansson.

Scientists in Iceland will use drones for the seal count this year, organized by the Institute of Freshwater Fisheries and Icelandic Seal Center. If the method proves successful, it will be added to the usual counting of seals by plane and is hoped to reduce costs, visir.is reports.

The last comprehensive counts took place in 2011. This year, funding was lacking, and so seals can only be counted in limited areas. Scientists received only one fourth of the funding they had asked for from the government. Therefore, the overall size of the seal stocks cannot be estimated, although the count can be used as an indication for the total number of seals.

“Drones and helicopters will be used in addition to the traditional airplane. We then want to compare the methods and hopefully reduce costs,” said project leader Sandra Granquist, a seals expert at the Institute of Freshwater Fisheries.

The other Nordic countries have an annual population assessment which is better suited to track the seals’ development. “An annual count is an absolute minimum and each area should be counted three times to get reliable numbers. There are many important factors to consider.”

“The count in 2011 showed that the harbor seal population had remained stable since 2003, which is positive, but the outlook for the gray seals is bad,” Sandra said. “Therefore we’re asking for funding for counts, not least to be able to compare [our statistics] to the other Nordic countries.”

In the count in 2011, there were around 12,000 harbor seals in Iceland, two thirds less than 1980. The gray seals, which were last counted in 2012, numbered only 4,000 animals and have been on the decline since 2005.

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