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In a Pinch, Alaska Wolves Eat Fish

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologist Dominique Watts (right) and Lem Butler, a biologist with the Alaska Department of Fish & Game, work together to capture, collar, sample and release Alaska Peninsula wolves.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologist Dominique Watts (right) and Lem Butler, a biologist with the Alaska Department of Fish & Game, work together to capture, collar, sample and release Alaska Peninsula wolves.

Credit: Dominique Watts/USFWS
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologist Dominique Watts snips hair samples from an Alaska Peninsula wolf to learn more about its diet. The wolf was tranquilized, captured, then released.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologist Dominique Watts snips hair samples from an Alaska Peninsula wolf to learn more about its diet. The wolf was tranquilized, captured, then released.

Credit: Dominique Watts/USFWS

When they can't find enough fresh meat to eat, grey wolves on the Alaska Peninsula have a backup. Many supplement their diets with seafood. That's a recent finding by biologist Dominique Watts at Alaska Peninsula and Becharof National Wildlife Refuges. 

How does Watts know? From a preliminary lab analysis of wolf hair and whiskers from about 40 wolves — some of the more than 100 he's captured, sampled and released over several years. Lab analysis reveals the chemical signature of substances the wolves ate while their hair and whiskers grew.

For now, the tests show only that fish and marine mammals constitute a substantial part of some wolves' diet; a more in-depth dietary breakdown will come later. But the preliminary findings fit with Watts's aerial observations of wolves feeding on salmon, walrus, beluga, grey whale and seal carcasses that he published last year in the journal Wildlife Biology.

Watts had suspected the scenes he witnessed might not be isolated events. The lab findings confirm his hunch. But even so, he says, the degree to which the analysis showed peninsula wolves are consuming salmon surprised him. "Some of these values were what you might expect if you ran this analysis on seal whiskers," he says. "It made me think we might have a very unique wolf-prey system out here."   

Learn more about Alaska Peninsula National Wildlife Refuge.
Learn more about Becharof National Wildlife Refuge.

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