A Little Wolf Mystery, Part I

Chris DI needed a renewal. Spring had sprung some time ago and I was envious of the plants outside my office window that seemed a lot more active than I. After a long winter of computer work, it was time again to visit the wolves and the forests that had changed my life forever.

Bella Bella in early July greeted the crew and I in a cloak of mist.  Donning rain gear we headed out to the homesites, or reproductive areas, that had been used by wolves in previous years.  From our speedboat, we’d paddle a canoe as quietly as possible to shore.  Then tip-toeing into the forest, playing the wind, we would make frequent binocular scans along the route to the homesites.  Anticipating a new litter of puppies, I was disappointed and surprised to reach the first site and find that the wolves had not returned this year.  A few tracks here and there, but not the mountains of scat and hair an active homesite usually amasses.  Likewise, many of the other sites visited were also empty.

What happened?  Many scientists (including us) observe homesites being used year after year.  When there is pack turnover, however – perhaps a new breeding individual – locations can change.  Or maybe guide outfitters, who are allowed to legally hunt wolves in BC, killed wolves at or near some homesites and scared them off. Perhaps there was some coast-wide ecological hiccup this year – climate-related, for example – that affected the distribution of vulnerable prey near where wolves may choose to reproduce.

It was near the end of our trip and we had still not seen any wolves. Fortunately, something compelled me to check out the west side of an outer coastal island we had never before visited.  We motored into a bay, bobbing up and down with the swell of the open Pacific.  Suddenly, there stood a most wild-looking black wolf, standing on a wave-beaten rock outcrop carefully watching our approach with her amber eyes. We carefully paddled ashore sometime later with pounding hearts and huge smiles.  As we tied up the canoe, two beautiful brown wolves came to greet us.  The homesite must not be far away.
…to be continued…

Chris Darimont
Rainforest Wolf Project Biologist
August 10, 2004
Bella Bella, BC

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Coastal wolf with a salmon in its month.
Photo by Dene Rossouw.