April 28, 2010

Brutus Confirmed Dead

Hopes were dashed yesterday when we learned that Brutus has indeed died. Weather station staff Rai LeCotey and André Bouchard offered to investigate the site for us and we readily agreed. Doing so would result in a timely assessment of what may have happened. Rai and André traveled by snowmobile to the GPS co-ordinates we had given them, and they did an excellent job of finding Brutus and documenting what they saw. The search was initially hampered with much snow that had fallen in recent weeks and then strong winds that followed. No tracks were visible in the area. The site of the GPS co-ordinates appeared barren but then the investigators noticed a tuft of fur sticking out of the snow. It was Brutus’ tagged ear. As they cleared the snow away, they could clearly see a large hole in Brutus’ left side. No blood was on the fur, no signs of scavenging, just the gaping hole in his side, consistent with being gored by a muskox. Note in one of the pictures how Brutus is not curled up; rather his legs are extended. It is likely that Brutus had one of his organs punctured in an encounter and died quickly. There was a thin layer of ice underneath Brutus when he was lifted from the site. It’s difficult to say for certain from pictures, but the yellowish color suggests urine. Bile fluid from a punctured gall bladder next to the liver could also be there if there was some movement before his death because the puncture wound is on top. Brutus’ remains were brought back to the weather station and will remain frozen until Brutus can be transported to Yellowknife for a necropsy.

It is sad to see any life end, but it certainly affects us more when we get to know an individual. Such was the case with Brutus, as many of us found ourselves rooting for him to be a successful hunter and provide for himself and his pack in a challenging environment. However, at the same time we have to respect the muskoxen. They don’t want to be eaten any more than we do, so they put up a fight, and a good fight they often do. Unfortunately for Brutus, this time he got in the way of a horn and paid the price. While we may be saddened by Brutus’ death, celebrate that we still have wilderness and that predator-prey dynamics, the evolutionary game of eat-or-be-eaten, still continues.

Please be advised, pictures may be disturbing to some.

April 27, 2010

Stay Tuned

The download today showed no change in the collar's location, and we have no further information from the weather station. Thus the best evidence is that the collar is either off Brutus, or Brutus is dead. If the weather station folks learn anything more, we will post that information here. Otherwise we will not find out anything more until about July 4, when we will return to the area.

However, we will be assessing and analyzing the > 500 locations accumulated so far and posting preliminary results here. So please check in now and then for further information.

We understand how it might seem sad that Brutus might be dead. However, he lived 10 years, and in most places, only one in 200-300 wolves lives that long. He certainly provided us with much good information, not only during this study of his movements, but also in previous years when we sat near his den and watched him and his many offspring. We hope to collar some of these offspring this summer and post their movements.


April 23, 2010

Serious Trouble

The news from Brutus' collar is not good.  From April 12:12:00 hr through the 16th (9 locations) there has been no change in location. We have not seen such a configuration of locations before, so unless something very unusual has happened, the following are possibilities:

1.  The collar released prematurely.
2.  The wolves chewed the collar off.
3.  The collar malfunctioned.
4.  Brutus is sick or wounded.
5.  Brutus died.

A second download 4 days later contained no new data but adds to evidence that something is drastically wrong. Occasionally no new data during a download means that the collar's Argos (transmitting) antenna was obscured at crucial times or the satellite passings were not oriented well enough to receive the data. Then the satellite just sends what it already has but nothing new. However, a dropped collar or a dead wolf could also obscure the antenna. One more download in a few days should indicate whether the problem is satellite orientation or obscured antenna. 

Whether the collar is off the wolf or the wolf is dead will remain unknown unless weather station folks try to check the location. They are considering snowmobiling there, but the travel distance is about 10  miles (16 km) and the terrain where the collar is (mountainside at 1,300 feet or 450 meters) is rough for snowmobile access.       

Part of the wolf pack has shown up at the weather station twice since April 3, but Brutus was not seen with them.  Perhaps he was with the rest of the pack, but perhaps  . . . .


April 19, 2010

Another Visit to the Weather Station

Again the wolves’ wanderings were pretty routine, although the animals used the south end of their territory more than the north.  The main exception was another visit to the weather station on March 29.  There they were again greeted with cameras as the accompanying shot of Brutus and a few of his buddies attest.


April 12, 2010

Routine, Except...

The pack’s movements from March 13 through the 26th were pretty routine. That is, the wolves used the basic part of their summer and winter range, adding little new to what we know about the extent of their movements. We find it interesting that since February 18 the animals have not visited the part of Axel Heiberg Island that they visited so often earlier in the winter. The fiords are still frozen, so travel across them should not be any problem.  Have the animals pretty well depleted all the vulnerable muskoxen they could find there? This is just one of the many mysteries we will have to ponder and hope we can answer eventually.

An important exception to the routine nature of this period’s movements, however, is the southwesternmost location (circled). Surely something special happened there, perhaps just a kill or perhaps 2 or 3. The wolves spent 9 locations there in an area no more than  0.3 miles (475 meters) across, from March 12 at 12:00 hr through March 15, and then one March 17 location and one March 18 location. In between, they traveled 25.5 miles (41 km) to the north-northwest on March 16 and then back to the circled area.   Why?