July 11, 2008

2008 Ellesmere Island Wolf Research Expedition

The summer of 2008 marks the 23rd year of the Ellesmere Island Arctic Wolf Research Expedition conducted annually by Dr. L. David Mech, senior research scientist with the Biological Resources Division, U.S. Geological Survey. “Dave” is also an adjunct professor in the Department of Fisheries, Wildlife and Conservation Biology, and Ecology, Evolution and Behavior at the University of Minnesota. Each summer, he has been granted a research permit from the territorial government in Canada. He has observed wolves for weeks at a time, traveled with them, watched them hunt and recorded their behavior as they raised their pups in this stark and hauntingly beautiful landscape.

This summer, Dave is accompanied by Dean Cluff, a wildlife biologist with the Department of
Environment and Natural Resources, Government of the Northwest Territories, Canada (http://www.nwtwildlife.com). Dean has traveled several times to Ellesmere Island with Dave Mech, including the summer of 2007 when there were no wolves to be found in the vast study area. Sometimes that happens. Wolf numbers fluctuate as prey populations flourish and wane. Some years no pups are produced. Other years, the breeding pair may be parents to 5 or more offspring.

The 2008 Ellesmere Island Arctic Wolf Research Expedition began with the hope that wolves would be raising pups at the rock den discovered years ago by Dave Mech, a beautiful outcropping of huge boulders and rocky rubble on a hillside with a panoramic view of a broad valley laced with meandering streams where muskoxen crop the meager vegetation. For photos and more information about this den site, go to http://www.wolf.org/wolves/experience/field_notes/field_notes_main.asp. You can click on the Ellesmere 2006 Research Expedition or on the 2001 Expedition. For a photo slide show, go to www.davemech.org. Click on Dave’s Personal Web Site and then on the 2006 trip photos.

After the long trip north to 80 Degrees North Latitude, Dave and Dean arrived at their base near a small weather station at Eureka on Ellesmere. Here, so close to the North Pole, the sun never sets in mid-summer. This is truly the Land of the Midnight Sun. Thus, the researchers must re-set their own inner clocks so they can observe wolves heading out to hunt during the bright evening hours and, if they are fortunate, see them return, perhaps to regurgitate meat to the pups that are still nursing but transitioning to solid food.

Here, in their words from their base camp, are the daily reports from Dave and Dean. Dean will send photos when possible.