Whose afraid of the big bad wolf? Salmon are

salmon-eating wolves of the Pacific coast

New research has suggested that wolves in Canada prefer to eat salmon to hunting deer.

In Focus
02 September 2008 21:11 BST

A four-year study of prey remains in wolf droppings and chemical analysis of shed hair shows the predators exclusively eating salmon when the fish was available. Researchers found that wolves in British Columbia hunted deer for the majority of the year, but switched to salmon in the autumn.

“One might expect that wolves would move on to salmon only if their mainstay deer were in short supply,” the study’s authors, publishing their findings in the BMC Ecology journal, said.

“Our data show that this is not the case, salmon availability clearly outperformed deer availability in predicting wolves’ use of salmon.”

Chris Darimont from the University of Victoria and the Raincoast Conservation Foundation said the switch to salmon was down to safety, nutrition and energy levels.

“Selecting benign prey such as salmon makes sense from a safety point of view,” he said.

“While hunting deer, wolves commonly incur serious and often fatal injuries. In addition to safety benefits we determined that salmon also provides enhanced nutrition in terms of fat and energy.”

But the wolf expert added that the predator-prey relationship between wolves and salmon could be imperilled. “There are multiple threats to salmon systems, including overexploitation by fisheries and the destruction of spawning habitats, as well as diseases from exotic salmon aquaculture that collectively have led to coast-wide declines of up to 90 per cent over the last century,” he said.

Read more about Raincoast’s wolf project