for National Geographic News
Move over, grizzly bears. "Fishing wolves" in coastal British Columbia are also looking to snatch some salmon, and will eat the fish almost exclusively when they are available, new research reveals.
Biologists analyzed years of data from gray wolves' feces to monitor what the animals were eating.
The team found that the coastal predators, like many other wolves, rely on deer most of the time in the spring and summer.
But during several months in the fall, the wolves ignored deer to focus on migrating salmon.
"What is unusual is this huge seasonal shift to salmon. They were forgoing deer to target salmon," said study leader Chris Darimont at the University of Victoria in Canada.
Study co-author Thomas Reimchen added in a press release that the results are as much about salmon as about wolves.
"Salmon continue to surprise us, showing us new ways in which their oceanic migrations eventually permeate entire terrestrial ecosystems," he said.
"In terms of providing food and nutrients to a whole food web, we like to think of them as North America's answer to the Serengeti's wildebeest."
Researchers already knew that wolves occasionally eat salmon, because biologists have found evidence of the fish in wolf droppings and had even seen the wolves fishing.
But the "comfortable, orthodox" theory, Darimont said, is that wolves are first and foremost linked to populations of ungulates—four-legged, hoofed mammals such as elk and deer.
"I would say it's pretty much central to most of the wolf literature," he said.
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