The North Atlantic Marine Mammal Commission


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NAMMCO SC Working Group on Harbour Seals

Harbour seal on the beach

The NAMMCO Scientific Committee held its first International Working Group on Harbour Seals, 3-6 October 2006 in Copenhagen, Denmark.


Until now, there has not been a full assessment of the status of harbour seals in the North Atlantic. NAMMCO Scientific Committee has previously provided information on the role of harbour seals as a source of nematodal infestations in fish (NAMMCO 1997) and in September 2005 the HELCOM/ICES/EU Seal Expert Workshop reviewed the status of seal populations, including harbour seals, in the Baltic Sea.

Harbour seal abundance has fluctuated in the Northeast Atlantic in recent years due to local outbreaks of viral distemper. Usually these outbreaks have been followed by rapid recoveries, and harbour seal abundance may have increased in many areas. In some NAMMCO areas, harbour seals are harvested and/or taken incidentally by fisheries and aquaculture operations (e.g. Greenland, Norway and Iceland). They also have significant direct and indirect interactions with fisheries in many areas. For these reasons, one of the main tasks of the new Working Group will therefore be to review the status of harbour seals throughout the North Atlantic.

The general terms of reference of this Working Group are:
- Review and assess the status of harbour seals throughout the North Atlantic; 
- Review and evaluate the applied survey methods; 
- Assess stock delineation using available data on genetics, spatial and temporal distribution and other sources;
- Review available information about harbour seal ecology; 
- Identify interactions with fisheries and aquaculture. 

The meeting took place as scheduled and included invited experts and members of the Scientific Committee only. The report from this Working Group was considered by the Scientific Committee at its meeting 21-23 November 2006 - see Annex 1 of the report of the 14th meeting of the Scientific Committee.