Washington, September 2 : A new research has suggested that wolves actually prefer fishing to hunting, by showing that when salmon is available, wolves will reduce deer hunting activity and instead focus on seafood.
The research was carried out by Chris Darimont from the University of Victoria and the Raincoast Conservation Foundation, Canada, which led a team of researchers in studying the feeding habits of wolves in a remote 3,300km2 area of British Columbia.
"Over the course of four years, we identified prey remains in wolf droppings and carried out chemical analysis of shed wolf hair in order to determine what the wolves like to eat at various times of year," said Darimont.
For most of the year, the wolves tend to eat deer, as one would expect. During the autumn, however, salmon becomes available and the wolves shift their culinary preferences.
According to the researchers, "One might expect that wolves would move onto salmon only if their mainstay deer were in short supply. Our data show that this is not the case, salmon availability clearly outperformed deer availability in predicting wolves' use of salmon."
The researchers have explained that the wolves' taste for fishy fare is likely based on safety, nutrition and energetics.
"Selecting benign prey such as salmon makes sense from a safety point of view. 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," Darimont said.
This work gives researchers as much insight into salmon ecology as wolf ecology.
According to Darimont's mentor and co-author Thomas Reimchen, also of the University of Victoria, "Salmon continue to surprise us, showing us new ways in which their oceanic migrations eventually permeate entire terrestrial ecosystems. 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."
The research also warns that this already vestigial predator-prey relationship - one that once spread from California to Alaska - might not be around forever.
"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," said Darimont.