Foraging Behaviour by Gray Wolves on Salmon Streams in Coastal British Columbia

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Spawning salmon (Oncorhynchus spp.) are important resources for terrestrial ecosystems and often shape the ecological strategies of organisms with which they co-evolve. Gray wolves (Canis lupus), primarily predators of ungulates, are sympatric with salmon over large areas, but the relationship between the two remains poorly understood. We report here observations of direct and indirect evidence of salmon predation by wolves in several watersheds of coastal British Columbia and in detail report on the foraging behaviour of four wolves at one river during September and October 2001. Wolves oriented themselves upstream during detection and pursuit of salmon. The pooled mean capture rate was 21.5 salmon/h and mean efficiency (successes/attempt) was 39.4%. In most cases, wolves consumed only heads of salmon, perhaps for nutritional reasons or parasite avoidance. Preying on salmon may be adaptive, as this nutritious and spatially constrained resource imposes lower risks of injury compared with hunting large mammals. We infer from capture rates and efficiencies, as well as stereotypical hunting and feeding behaviour, a history of salmon predation by wolves and, as a corollary, a broad distribution of this foraging ecology where wolves and salmon still co-exist.