Wolves like salmon, too, study shows
November 17th | Carey Restino
Salmon isn't just a favorite on Alaska dinner tables — some groups of wolves like it to. These and other findings are part of a recently-released study of Southwest Alaska wolves spanning nearly a decade and hundreds of miles.
The study, conducted by Lake Clark National Park and Preserve, started in 2008 when biologists radio-collared 22 wolves from six packs and tracked them over a five-year period. The study aimed to better understand how far they roamed as well as their living patterns, including what they ate.
What they found was a surprise. While biologists knew that wolves traveled across a wide area, what they found from the highly accurate GPS radio collars was that wolves can travel hundreds of miles in relatively short periods of time. Buck Mangipane said in a release that one wolf was tracked traveling around Illiamna Lake in 17 days — a total trip distance of 234 miles — before returning to her original location.
"This daily tracking provided a much more detailed understanding of wolf movements than was gathered with typical aerial tracking efforts of the past," he said in the release.
Similarly, the study revealed surprising data about the wolves eating habits. Wolves are typically associated with eating large terrestrial prey, such as caribou and moose, but the study showed that can be a generalization. Instead, wolves appeared to have preferences, and some of them preferred salmon.
While 17 wolves continued to eat terrestrial prey primarily, the diets of five wolves studied switched to salmon in the summer. For these wolves, at least 50 percent of their diet was salmon when the rivers were full.
"Over 3 years, one group of wolves consistently consumed salmon in summer and switched to terrestrial prey in winter," the study release said. "This use of salmon is likely widespread, though infrequently documented, among wolves that live where salmon is abundant."
The study, which was recently published in the Aug. 2017 issue of Canadian Journal of Zoology, found indications that use of salmon as a food resource improved wolf pack stability.
The wolves are an important part of the Lake Clark National Park and Preserve, Mangipane said, and are sought by both park visitors and local trappers and hunters.
"As apex predators, wolves impact natural systems which have adapted to and evolved in the presence of wolves," the release said. "The study helped biologists increase their knowledge of local pack size and large range for hunting of prey."
The National Park Service partnered with the University of Alaska-Anchorage and the Environmental and Natural Resources Institute on this study. The published study can be found at https://irma.nps.gov/DataStore/Reference/Profile/2245794.