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SSF-Svalbard Science Forum

Drone surveys of ice associated seals hauled out on sea-ice during the moulting period (part of ARK)

Tildelt: kr 96 999

The most recent population survey of Arctic ringed seals conducted in Svalbard was in 2003. Over the past 5 years, the Norwegian Polar Institute has been developing the techniques, methodologies and field competence to survey marine mammals using UAV. In 2023 a full-scale survey of all ice-covered areas in the Isjforden area - Tempelfjord, Ymmerbukta, Ekmanbukta, Adolfbukta and Dicksonfjord - was conducted. Van Mijenfjorden to the south and Kongsfjorden to the north are also important areas for ringed seals and, importantly, neither location has had an updated survey since 2003 yet these areas have been consistently highlighted as a high priority for research into marine mammal occurrence, abundance, distribution and population trends. The overall goal of this research is therefore to provide the first population assessment of ringed seals in western Svalbard in over 20 years that includes Van Mijenfjorden and Kongsfjorden. The presence of sea ice dictates the timing of fieldwork for two reasons 1) for ringed seals, sea ice is a substrate on which they haul out during their annual moult and 2) sea ice is used as a takeoff and landing substrate for UAV. The research group will use a small Polarcirkel as a means of transport around Kongsfjorden to fly UAV surveys using the recently installed 4G network. Accessing Van Mijenfjorden will primarily be using snowmobiles with sledges from Longyearbyen to the Svea Research Station in order to transport two larger fixed wing UAV to the site and, given the dimensions of the fjord, to move within the site to different takeoff and landing sites to maximise coverage relative to the endurance of the UAV. Surveys will be designed a priori to cover all sea ice within each fjord, using a fixed wing UAV fitted with a digital camera, flown on automated flight profiles to collect high resolution digital imagery of each fjord that will be used to assess ringed seal abundances.


SSF-Svalbard Science Forum