The Wadden Sea is an important habitat for harbour seals and grey seals. They regularly haul-out on sandbanks and islands along the coast. Comparably little is known about the time seals spend at sea and how they use the remainder of the North Sea. Yet, human activity in offshore waters is increasing and information on seal distribution in the North Sea is crucial for conservation and management. Aerial line transect surveys were conducted in the German bight from 2002 to 2007 to investigate the distribution and abundance of marine mammals. Distance sampling methodology was combined with density surface modelling for a spatially explicit analysis of seal distribution in the German North Sea. Depth and distance to coast were found to be relevant predictor variables for seal density. Density surface modelling allowed for a depiction of seal distribution in the study area as well as an abundance estimate. This is the first study to use aerial survey data to develop a density surface model (DSM) for a spatially explicit distribution estimate of seals at sea.
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