HomeOutdoorsNewsHere’s What Happens When These Alaskan Wolves Run out of Deer to Eat

Here’s What Happens When These Alaskan Wolves Run out of Deer to Eat

by Caitlin Berard
Close Up Shot of an Alaskan Gray Wolf
(Photo by Ferenc Cegledi via Getty Images)

Rather than their typical prey, a pack of Alaskan wolves has made an unlikely marine mammal their primary food source – sea otters.

In the food chain, wolves are apex predators, meaning they have no natural predators of their own and can eat virtually whatever they want. Typically, however, they stick to ungulates like moose, deer, and mountain goats, which is what makes the Gustavus pack so shocking.

Like typical wolves, the Gustavus pack used to feast on the deer living on the remote island in Alaska. Eventually, however, they eradicated the deer entirely, forcing the pack to find new prey. Since then, they have adapted to hunting and eating sea otters, making the small mammals their main food source.

To come to this shocking conclusion, researchers used methods such as tracking the wolves with GPS collars and analyzing their scat. Through this research, they discovered that in 2015, deer made up a whopping 75% of the wolves’ diet. By 2020, however, deer declined to less than 7 percent, with otters skyrocketing to 57 percent.

“We assumed moose and deer would be the primary prey species, and it’s known that in coastal areas wolves use marine subsidies. Generally, that’s seasonal — salmon for example,” wolf biologist Gretchen Roffler explained to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. “In Gustavus, we found the use of sea otters throughout the year. So far, it’s been pretty consistent.”

Alaskan Wolves Adjusted Their Hunting Habits to Better Snatch Sea Otters

Interestingly, otters are predators themselves but are no match for the ferocious Alaskan wolves. This bizarre discovery marks the first instance of sea otters becoming the primary food source for a land-based predator.

So, how did this happen? How did the wolves inhabit a remote Alaskan island in the first place? It all started back in 2013, when a pack of wolves swam to the island to hunt the native deer population, subsequently causing it to plummet. And when they ran out of deer, they didn’t leave, as one would expect. Instead, they simply switched food sources.

“They aren’t just scavenging sea otters that are dead or dying,” Roffler said. “They are stalking them and hunting them and killing them and dragging them up onto the land above the high tide line to consume them.”

According to GPS collar data collected by the researchers, the wolves began hunting by the shore when there were no deer left to feed them. By stalking shallow water, the wolves were able to snatch otters as they relaxed in the tide or rested on rocks.

“The thing that really surprised me is that sea otters became the main prey of wolves on this island,” Roffler said. “Occasionally eating a sea otter that has washed up on the beach because it died, that is not unusual. But the fact that wolves are eating so many of them indicates it has become a widespread behavior pattern throughout this pack and something that they learned how to do very quickly.”