Planet Earth

GPS Tracks Brutus the Wolf on Marathon Hunts Around the Arctic

80beatsBy Brett IsraelDec 30, 2009 8:07 PM

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A lone wolf named Brutus is helping U.S. Geological Survey scientists study Arctic wolf migrations in remote regions of Canada. These migrations can traverse hundreds of miles in 24-hour winter darkness at temperatures that reach 70 degrees below zero Fahrenheit. There's no way humans can physically follow the wolves under these brutal conditions, so Brutus is sporting a GPS collar that beams his coordinates back to a satellite every 12 hours.

As it turns out, the wolves are covering a lot of ground, as can be seen in the map above. Now, the fjords visible in the summer image above have frozen and can be crossed on foot. In one trip, the wolf and his pack traveled 80 miles from Ellesmere Island to Axel Heiberg Island and back in just 84 hours. Just through November 30, Brutus has traveled 1,683 miles [Wired.com].

The tracking is part of the Northwest Territories' Central Arctic Wolf Project and the project is chronicled by researchers Dave Mech and Dean Cluff on the International Wolf Center blog.

David Mech admitted that despite studying the wolves for 25 years, he had no clue what they did each winter after he left. Now he knows the wolves are traveling in packs, most likely to hunt enough food to survive to the spring. 

The members of the pack – 11 adults and an unknown number of pups that can now travel with the pack – hunt muskoxen and Arctic hares, which flourish on Axel [Heiberg Island]. "That would be the only reason to travel so far," writes Mech. 

He and Cluff receive reports every four days, emailed to their computers from the Argos satellite of the collar's twice-daily location check [Toronto Star].

Next the researchers hope to answer how a pack of this size is able to kill enough prey under the cover of 24-hour darkness to stay alive. Making the leap from pens and notebooks to GPS and satellites should help.

Related Content: 80beats: For the First Time in 36 Years, Rocky Mountain Wolves Are in the Crosshairs Again 80beats: Dogs Think Like Babies, While Wolves Think for Themselves 80beats: Wolves Have Dogs to Thank for Their Dark FurImage: USGS

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