The Ottawa Citizen
Tuesday, September 02, 2008
Wolves would rather fish than hunt, says a new Canadian study that found British Columbia wolves turn up their noses at deer when they can catch spawning salmon.
Not only is fish great food, the B.C. biologists found, but it’s also safer for wolves, which can suffer crippling injuries hunting deer and elk. Chris Darimont’s research team is wryly calling the wolf “Canada’s newest marine mammal.” The term usually means whales and seals.
And it’s a reflection of Canadiana that may be very, very old. What if wolves once practised this over a huge area, when wolves and salmon were more abundant in southern B.C. and on Canada’s east coast, and even around Lake Ontario, once home to Atlantic salmon?
“We see this as stepping back in time,” said Mr. Darimont, who does his research at the University of Victoria and the Raincoast Conservation Foundation.
The evidence comes partly from 4,000 grey-wolf droppings, collected over four years. He washed these and combed through what was left for an analysis of the animals’ diets.
During the spring and summer, the food is at least 90-per-cent deer meat. During the fall salmon run, it switches to salmon.
Further, analysis of tufts of wolf hair shows the chemical clincher. A diet of seafood contributes different “isotopes,” or atomic forms, of carbon and nitrogen than a diet of anything found on land. And these wolves were carrying carbon and nitrogen from the sea.
But was this just a case of desperation when deer were scarce? It seems not. All eight unconnected families of wolves camped out by spawning creeks each September and October, no matter how many deer were around. They liked fish better.
Which makes sense, Mr. Darimont said.”It’s a very safe (diet). You don’t risk getting clobbered” by a kick from an elk. “It’s very, very nutritious in terms of fat and protein. It’s very predictable, and you don’t have to chase it for kilometres and kilometres. It comes to you. The buffet is right
in the creek,” he said. The study is published today in the research journal BMC Ecology.