If you’ve ever felt the need to “run with the wolves”, escape real life and get back to nature, well now you can with what is possibly the world’s first wild wolf collar camera footage. Catch a wolf's eye view as it runs through the forest, has a good chew on a leg bone, and even stops for a spot of fishing in a stream.
The footage comes from the University of Minnesota-led Voyageurs Wolf Project, and – as far as they know – is the first-ever footage captured from a collar camera on a wild wolf. Excitingly, the footage has revealed important information about wolf behavior that hadn’t been confirmed before.
Lone wolf V089, our furry photographer, was caught hunting and fishing in a stream on at least three occasions at the same spot. Until now, the project had only documented wolves from a single wolf pack hunting and killing fish at this creek. This footage shows that not only do the wolves outside of that pack hunt and fish in the area, but lone wolves do it too – which means this could be a behavior wolves figure out for themselves, as well as being taught in a pack.
"Up to this point, we had only documented wolves from a single pack (the Bowman Bay Pack) hunting and killing fish at the same small creek. However, this camera collar footage clearly demonstrates that other wolves in our area know how to hunt fish and they do so in different areas," researcher Thomas Gable told IFLScience.
In an effort to study and understand wolves – specifically the curious question, what do wolves do in the summer? – the project has camera traps set up across the Greater Voyageurs Ecosystem, including Voyageurs National Park, in northern Minnesota. However, this is the first time they’ve attached a collar cam to a wolf in the hope of unobtrusively getting closer to wild wolf behavior than ever before.
Using a camera developed by Vectronic-Aerospace, the team managed to attach it to V089 using non-invasive methods. The camera was set to record 30 seconds at a time, at the start of each hour of daylight, for six weeks before falling off the wolf as planned. "The key to using camera collars is recovering the collar to ensure we can see the footage," Gable said. "Luckily, these drop-off devices ensure that to be true!"
After sorting through the footage – thanks to the wolf’s winter coat, a lot of it featured muddy wolf beard – they have now released the footage for everyone to enjoy.
Despite the shaggy fur, the footage has reaffirmed previous research of theirs that found wolves hunt fish in freshwater. It's known that wolves in Alaska and parts of Canada hunt fish during salmon spawning season, but this footage strongly suggests wolves are enjoying a spot of fishing all over the place, not just in salmon-spawning areas where the fish practically throw themselves onto the dinner plate. V089 even seems to have set up its fishing spot by a beaver dam, waiting to snag the fish that can't get through, which is rather crafty.
"We initially thought the fishing behavior was quite rare as we have studied many wolves from multiple packs and only one pack (prior to 2020) had hunted fish," Gable said. However, this new data "suggests that the behavior might be more widespread than we initially thought."
After a successful trial, the team now plans to fit three more wolves with collar cams this summer to see what else they can learn. "The big thing we will do differently is trim the hair a bit so we get a better field of view," Gable said. "Otherwise, our goal will be to deploy more of these collars in the future and hopefully gain more insights into the secret lives of wolves!"