Recently-released video footage from Voyageurs National Park in northern Minnesota shows multiple wolves hunting, catching, and feeding on fish. The video is part of a 7-year research project conducted by the Voyageurs Wolf Project that documented the first-known observations of wolves “fishing” in the Upper Midwest. See it for yourself below.
“From 2017 to 2021, we recorded more than 10 wolves hunting fish during the spring spawning season in northern Minnesota,” the researchers wrote in a paper published on May 24, 2023. “Wolves ambushed fish in creeks at night when spawning fish were abundant, available, and vulnerable in shallow waters.
The researchers said their findings suggest that spawning suckers are a valuable nutritional resource for Minnesota’s wolves during a time when their primary prey species, whitetail deer, become less abundant. The wolves begin feeding almost exclusively on fish, the scientists wrote, and the transition coincides with the birth of new wolf pups—”when packs have higher energetic demands.”
The researchers also uncovered some interesting dynamics at play between the wolves and another prey species, which might be driving their switch from deer to suckers in the springtime. “We observed wolves specifically targeting sections of rivers below beaver dams,” they said, “suggesting that beavers may indirectly facilitate wolf fishing behavior.”
Through a combination of GPS collaring, strategically-placed trail cameras, and footage collected from the first wild wolf ever outfitted with a camera, the scientists determined that “wolf fishing behavior” may be widespread in similar freshwater ecosystems in Wisconsin, Michigan, Ontario, Quebec, and beyond. And its likely happening every year—as long as rivers and streams don’t dry up or become too flooded for the wolves to find fish.
In the video, the canines are seen wading and walking on logs with their eyes glued to the water’s surface. They appear to be remarkably adept anglers, plucking sucker after sucker from the shallow water with their teeth. Then the point-of-view shifts, showing the the lone camera-outfitted wolf back on the bank feeding on a freshly-caught sucker.
One particular wolf described in the research paper stacked up a mess fish on the bank and cached some of them for later. “In a video taken 3 minutes after the successful fishing attempt, the wolf returned to the bank until it appeared to hear a splash that is audible in the video,” the paper reads. “[The splash] caused the wolf to wade back into the water. One minute later, the wolf returned to the creek bank and heard another splash. The wolf promptly waded back into the water again and lunged at a fish out of the camera frame.”
While the recent study provides the first scientifically-documented observations of wolves feeding on freshwater fish in the Great Lakes Region, it’s not the first time that evidence of fishing wolves has surfaced. Other studies have documented wolves gorging on spawning salmon in Alaska and British Columbia. Wolves are considered generalist predators with “high dietary plasticity”—meaning they’ll feed on just about any appropriate food source they can find.