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The Fishing Wolves of Voyageurs

The first and only video footage of wolves hunting and catching freshwater fish to our knowledge.

We first learned of wolves hunting fish (spawning suckers) in 2017 when two wolves—Wolf V034 and his son, Wolf V046— in the Bowman Bay Pack ‘fished’. We thought that was very interesting and our initial impression was that this was likely a very unique behavior that only a few wolves had figured it out.

 

This was largely because this was the first documented observations of wolves hunting freshwater fish in places like Minnesota that we were aware of. How little we knew then! Zoom forward 7 years and we have now documented wolves hunting and catching fish every year except 2022 (when we had large flooding which likely made catching fish very difficult).

Wolf V034 fishing at night.

That means we have documented wolves fishing 6 out of 7 years since 2017! We have used an assortment of approaches to document this behavior including GPS-collar data, a single firsthand observation, trail cameras deployed at creeks, and a camera collar deployed on a wolf.

 

Using all this info, we have observed wolves from 5 different packs (and one lone wolf!) catching fish at various creeks and rivers in our area. The wolves in many of these packs are almost certainly unrelated and it is not like one “smart” fishing wolf is teaching all the wolves in the area to fish.

GPS-locations in late Spring 2023 from 5 wolves (each wolf is a different color) from 3 packs that were all hunting fish along the same river. You cannot see the river on the aerial imagery because there are so many wolf locations here. 

Rather, individual wolves appear to figure this out by themselves when conditions are ripe for fishing, and in some instances, those wolves share the behavior with other pack members. So some wolves figure this out by themselves and others learn it from other wolves.

 

Based on this, we conclude that wolves “fishing” is almost certainly a widespread behavior and that wolves in many similar ecosystems likely hunt and catch fish every year. However, scientists haven't known about this behavior because wolves only fish for a relatively short period of time (a few weeks) and documenting the behavior is quite difficult without GPS-collar data.

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