Voor Nederlands, klik hier!

The working group Marine Mammals of the Dutch Mammal Society is organising the "Zeezoogdierdagen 2018" in collaboration with Sealcentre Pieterburen and the University of Groningen in the far North of the Netherlands. That is why the Arctic region, seals and genetic studies on marine mammals are the main topics during these days. But there are also many other activities, such as a visit to the Sealcentre Pieterburen, a Marine Mammal Market, a photo exhibition and a poster session.

Program Friday 9 February 2018

On Friday evening there will be an ice breaker party on the former coaster the MvOurWorld in Groningen. There will be stories about adventurious expeditions and travels, which will take place in the hold of the ship from 19:45 till 22:30. Also, there will be free beer and singing! On the menu of this evening: Photographer Martijn de Jonge who will tell us about his recent trip to Tarifa, Spain, where he took pictures of orcas and other dolphins. Hans Beelen will recite from old travelling stories of explorers and whalers and Herman Sips will tell about his Arctic sailing trip and the meetings with sea mammals along the way. Another Arctic story is presented by Ko de Korte. In the late 1960s he spent more than a year on Spitsbergen to catch and mark polar bears. A story about overwhelming nature, extreme solitude and research that is still relevant. Also in these days long travels are made to study marine mammals. Verónica Belchior and Fadia Al Abbar were occupied for 16 hours per day to spot blows, splashes and a lonely fin for the CETUS-project and lived on cargo ships together with the crew. Both researchers are present at mvOurWorld and will talk about these long trips in Macronesia. Furthermore, the Shanty Chorus "Armstrongs Patent" will sing old "whaler songs".

Orcas in the Strait of Gibraltar near Tarifa. ©Martijn de Jonge, 2017

Everyone who wishes to stay overnight in this old ship, can find a place to lay down their sleeping mattress and sleeping bag. Guests are welcome to stay here from Friday afternoon until Sunday. The stay and meals on board of MvOurWorld are for free. We recommend people travelling by train to rent a bike, because the ship is situated in between Groningen and Haren. There is also a shuttle service to transport people as much as possible. Use the application form to indicate whether you are coming on Friday night and/or sleeping on board of the MvOurWorld. For other possibilities to sleep, please look here.


Sponsor of the stay and program on MvOurWorld:



Program Saturday 10 February 2018

On Saturday we will be hosted at the old Biological Centre of the University of Groningen, where we use the former lecture halls and the canteen of Wing F of "the Biotoop" in Haren-Groningen.

* Time schedule


* Talks

Session 1: 10:30-12:30

Walrus hunting among Inuit in Arctic Canada - Sean Desjardins
How indigenous people in the Arctic reacted on natural climate changes is little known. An exception is the ethno-archeological study by Sean Desjardins on coastally-adapted Inuit in central Nunavut, Arctic Canada, which covers the period AD 1250 till now. Sean will tell us how these Inuit were able to nourish themselves during the Little Ice Age (ca. AD 1300 to 1900) and how they were able to keep on hunting walruses even when sea ice extent was much larger than nowadays. Sean Desjardins is postdoc at the Arctic Centre of the University of Groningen.
What do we know about large whales that visit Dutch waters? - Per Palsbøll
A brief overview will be presented of what we know currently about the population identity and history of the large baleen whales that are increasing observed in Dutch waters. Per Palsbøll is using genetic research to compare different whale populations and population trends. Per Palsbøll is professor Marine Biology of the University of Groningen.
Are crying seal pups really that sad? - Margarita Mendez-Arostegui & Beatriz Rapado-Tamarit
For years crying seal pups have been regarded as “orphans” in need of rehabilitation. New research by ZHC Pieterburen sheds new light on this issue. After many observation hours Margarita and Beatriz show that seal pups can handle being alone for hours on end and that mother seals take care of multiple pups. Margarita Mendez-Arostegui & Beatriz Rapado-Tamarit are PhD students at Sealcentre Pieterburen and the University of Groningen.
Marine mammam conservation by WWF: Lancaster Sound in North Canada as an example (in DUTCH) - Gert Polet
An overview will be given on the status and prospects of the main Arctic marine mammals and Gert will explain how the conservation work by WWF is conducted in this area. He will show the results the Arctic program of the WWF has achieved in one particular project: the Lancaster Sound in North Canada. Gert Polet is leader of the Arctic program of WWF-Netherlands.

Session 2: 13:30-15:00

Paleobiogeography of true seals (in DUTCH) - Leonard Dewaele
About fossils and seals. In modern times, two subfamilies of seals live separately: the northern Phocinae and the southern Monachinae. Long ago in geological times, the geographic distribution of seals was completely different. Also, the European and Peruvian coasts were hotspots with an unbelievable diversity of seal groups, which cannot be found nowadays. Leonard tells us where all these seals came from and what has happened with them. Leonard Dewaele is paleontologist and as PhD student reconstructing the evolution of seals at the University of Ghent (Belgium).
Baleen whales and their prey in times of a rapid climate change - Andrea Cabrera
How baleen whale populations and their prey in the Atlantic and Southern Ocean changed in abundance and migration rate in the past can be still traced down. Genetic data collected from these species in modern times show how they reacted on rapid climate changes such as the end of the ice ages. In this talk, Andrea will give an overview of the changes in eight baleen whale and seven prey populations during the Holocene-Pleistocene transition. Andrea Cabrera is a PhD-candidate at Marine Evolution and Conservation Department of the University of Groningen and will defend her thesis next April.
Talking seals - Andrea Ravignani
Hoover was a common seal that could talk like parrots do. This was the starting point for Andrea to study the vocal communication of seals. It turns out that seals learn making sounds very much like we do. In his talk many sounds will pass by and he will discuss what the use is of these sounds. Finally, he will explain what this means for the evolution of seals and for us! Andrea Ravignani is Marie Curie fellow at Sealcentre Pieterburen, the AI Lab at the Free University of Brussels and the Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics in Nijmegen.
The Ice Whale: Icon of the Arctic packice (in DUTCH) - Herman Sips
The Bowhead is an enormous baleen whale, fully bound to the Arctic ice, which can reach ages of over two hunderd years. After the intensive whaling particularly by the Dutch, the Spitsbergen population is very vulnerable. Another name for the Bowhead is the Ice Whale. Herman will tell us about his project The Ice Whale and will take us along deep into the Arctic pack-ice, where these whales gather in the dark winter season to sing their special songs. Herman Sips is biologist and founder of the Ice Whale Foundation.

Session 3: 15:30-17:00

Marine mammals in and around Spitsbergen (in DUTCH)- Ko de Korte
What is the current status of the marine mammals in and around Spitsbergen? Ko gives an update from the late 1960s up to now. Ko de Korte has a long career as polar traveller and researcher.
Seals can tell if we use too much antibiotics - Ana Rubio-Garcia
Many ecosystems are exposed to the superfluous use of antibiotics, which makes bacteria resistant and helps them evolve to "superbacteria". This resistance is already visible in wild animals such as seals and shows us that seals can be seen as bio-indicators of the Wadden Sea. Ana Rubio-Garcia is head veterinarian at the Sealcentre Pieterburen and PhD candidate of the University of Utrecht.
Ancient DNA of the Steller’s sea cow - Sina Baleka
The Steller's sea cow was an enormous animal only occurring around the Commandor Islands in front of the Kamchatka coast when discovered in 1741. Shortly after, the species was annihilated by seafarers. This is why we could call it the ‘Dodo amongst the sea mammals’. With DNA from old bones, Sina Baleka tries to reconstruct its genome and to know more about this mysterious extinct species. Sina Baleka is researcher and PhD candidate at the University of Potsdam.


* Marine mammal Market

During the day there will be a Marine Mammal Market with a second-hand book sale and stands of nature travel agencies, marine mammal rehabilitation centres, WWF, Sealcentre Pieterburen, Arctic Centre, the University of Groningen and much more.

* Pasta Poster Photo Party

After 17:00 the "Photo Poster Pasta Party" will take place. While enjoying a warm meal and a drink, you can look at the research posters and the photos of marine mammals. In the meantime you will have the opportunity to talk with the researcher or photographer about their work. Are you interested in submitting a poster or photograph? More information you will find here.

Excursion Sunday 11 February 2018

On Sunday all attendees of the Friday and Saturday of the Marine Mammal Days 2018 are invited to an excursion to the Sealcentre in Pieterburen. Registered attendees will not have to pay an entrance fee and are offered to attend special activities that day. Take note that transport to Pieterburen has to be arranged at your own convenience. Here more information about transport.

Sealcentre Pieterburen believes in the mission that healthy seals are indicators for a healthy sea. Their activities include scientific research on seals and their environment, the rehabilitation of around 300 phocids per year stranded on the Dutch coast, hosting and training more than 100 international students per year and stimulating environmental protection and awareness through their visitors centre and public outreach. A visit to the centre introduces you to how seals are being take care of excellent seal hospital, the surprising and sometime concerning stories we uncover through the scientific research and last but not least, the great international community that is the staff and students running the centre.

Seal necropsy

Have you ever wondered how a seal is so wonderfully adapted to living under water? On the outside of the seal a lot can be seen already, but the inside is just as special. In this necropsy, the veterinary team of the Sealcentre allows you to witness how they examine a seal that was found dead or died during the rehabilitation and discover the cause of death. While doing so, they will explain all the external and internal adaptations of seals.

Changing perspectives

The Netherlands has a long history of rehabilitating seals, but an even longer history of hunting seals. This seeming contradiction is put in perspective by biologist Sander van Dijk of the Sealcentre in this engaging talk. He will also go into the question that is currently under investigation: what is the future of seal rehabilitation in the Netherlands? Input of the audience on this question will be greatly appreciated.

Behind the scenes

Ever wondered what a seal hospital looks like? Or how samples are collected from wild seals that are brought in wounded or sick? We will take you behind the scenes of the facilities in Pieterburen.

All activities take place between 11:00 and 16:00 at Sealcentre Pieterburen. Exact time schedule will be send by email after registration. Participants of the Zeezoogdierdagen have free entrance to the Sealcentre on Sunday.

We have limited space per session, therefore registration is mandatory!

Take note: the Sealcentre is also a rescue centre for stranded animals and deals with multiple sick and injured animals in their hospital facilities. This means the program and activities is always pending on unforeseen seal-related events.


All days are free, but registration is mandatory. The excursion to Pieterburen is only for the Friday and Saturday participants Register here!

Watch this webpage! It will be regularly updated with the latest news. Follow us at Facebook and twitter.

Are you not able to visit these days? We have also a newsletter with short interesting articles about marine mammals. Are you not receiving this newsletter? Register by sending an email to nieuwsbriefwzz@zoogdiervereniging.nl.

Our sponsors


Background picture: aerial surveys of seals in the Wadden Sea. Photo ©Sophie Brasseur.