April 1, 2013 Wild West-coast Wolves
The red-ochre or salmon-colored coastal wolves along the Great Bear Rainforest or mid-coastline of British Columbia are unique and dependant upon intact old growth forests that provide habitat for salmon bearing streams.
Wolves, similarly to humans and a few other highly social animals, work co-operatively by utilizing a division of labor.
Over the past 300 years in North American humans of European descent have relentlessly hunted wolves. In fact, the British Columbia coastal wolf population has been drastically reduced by at least 80 percent.
Coastal wolves are the least known subspecies of gray wolves left on the planet. They live in rugged yet picturesque terrain, which receives more than 7 feet of precipitation annually.
Extremely efficient packs of 15 animals lead by an alpha male, move silently through the rainforests – over barnacles, moss and rock.
Each pack occupies about 90 miles of space or home range including islands, forest covered mountains and caves – critical cover for protection during the winter months.
A pack is able to move as much as 40 miles a day, most of the travel occurs during the night.
One of the most remarkable mutually beneficial relationships I have ever observed in nature exists between wolves and ravens. On Pooley Island, I’ve seen ravens playing with pups by dive-bombing them!
Ravens depend upon wolves as they scavenge left over kills. Wolves, on the other hand, rely upon raven alert calls to warn them of intruders. Wolves do not eat ravens.
DNA hair analysis has recently revealed two distinct wolf populations: one on the outer-coast and the other on the inner-coast.
The outer-coast packs eat: seabirds, shorebirds (cranes, geese and herons), small fish including cods, quillbacks, copper rockfish, salmon, mussels, clamshells, beavers, deer, beached sea-lions, seals, squid, and whales.
The inner-coast packs have a similar diet except occasionally they will eat moose and mountain goats from the mainland.
Astoundingly, the outer-coast packs rely upon the ocean for 75 percent of their diet. Marine food accounts for only 50 percent of the inner-coast wolf diet.
West-coast wolves regularly and carefully travel across water similarly the way people cross streets. These wolves can swim as far as 9 miles in icy water, against strong tidal currents and contend with erratic coastal winds.
A wolf’s sense of smell is between one hundred and one million times more acute than human beings. A wolf can smell what a human ate for breakfast the day before.
Wolves rely on their incredibly strong jaws, seven times greater than a human, and their teeth to kill their prey.
In the fall, the small size and volume of the coastal island streams in the Great Bear Rainforest, enable both the inner- and outer-coast packs to catch salmon with a striking 30 percent kill rate.
These wolves eat only salmon heads with brains that are high in omega-3 fatty acids – rich in nutritious calories. Coastal wolves have not adapted to eating salmon stomachs loaded with parasites.
Salmon carcasses feed an additional 200 species in one of Nature’s most complex cycles that ultimately feeds invertebrates (spineless creatures) that sustain the next generation of salmon in that river – those salmon feed the wolves.
In fact, up to 80 percent of marine-based nitrogen (the most limiting element for forest growth) comes from the remains of salmon carcasses dragged from the streams into the forest.
Salmon ultimately depend upon old growth forests to provide stream stability so that they can spawn. Old growth forests use billions of trees roots to filter water before it enters the stream. Huge streamside trees regulate the stream water temperature. Big dead fallen trees provide pools for fry to mature prior to entering the Pacific Ocean.
Old growth forests also provide critical habitat, especially during the winter, for deer. Deer are an essential winter food source for both coastal populations of wolves.
Since the people of British Columbia are the owners of the crown land – a unified voice directing Premier Christy Clark and her government to impose a moratorium on all logging in the remaining coastal Great Bear Rainforest is of paramount importance. When these forests are harvested salmon, west-coast wolves, Spirit, grizzly and black bears all disappear.
Text © by Dr Reese Halter 2013. All rights reserved.
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