From Terror To Daring – Wolf Encounters

My first and last backcountry trip in Alaska was to Swikshak Bay in Katmai National Park and Preserve. I saw amazing views, had beautiful plane rides, and a wolf both times.

Bundled up in my flight suit, working at Swikshak Bay. Katmai NPP October 2016

Wolves perplex me; I have always found them majestic and enchanting, yet also terrifying. There are three animals that I had continual nightmares about growing up; bears, monkeys, and wolves. In fourth or fifth grade I read a Goosebumps book about wolves (even though I was not supposed to, due to my active imagination and me being scared easily). My mom says I had nightmares for a month. I couldn’t watch Beauty and The Beast because, the Beast scared me, but so did the wolf scene in the woods. It seems that wolves are often shown in such a negative light. For generations, humans have destroyed them because of superstitions of evil intent and wolves preying on our “prey”.
Read my colleagues write up on “American Wolf Wars“. It’s also easy to see why we can “portray them as evil” when we watch this top predator at work

Even though my first feeling is typically worry and fear, I do enjoy seeing wolves in the wild. I can probably tie my love for wolves to my love of domesticated dogs. Before we started to remove wolves, thousands of years ago, homo sapiens worked to make them man’s best friend. Looking up the theories for this was interesting to me. I actually did the research while working at Mesa Verde National Park, trying to understand the relationship between humans and dogs in the past. Dogs could be summed up as a food source (at times), protection, hunting assistants, and possibly in a companion like way similar to today. It is thought that homo sapiens domesticated dogs at different times, in different places across the world!

That right there excites me. Maybe that’s why I haven’t had nightmares about wolves/dogs in a year or two. The more I learn about these animals, the more I understand them and they lose that “evil”.

Let’s get back to Katmai!

Wolf tracks in Swikshak Bay – Katmai National Park and Preserve 2016

My first trip and wolf encounter I spoke about before. I was scared, wanted to run, and really worried something bad could happen. (I startle very easily and don’t handle surprises too well.) However, common sense prevailed and I ended up having a really neat moment. The Katmai wolf population is unknown and not studied. After working in Yellowstone, that really was a surprise to me. Wolves have been seen all throughout Katmai, to the interior, to fishing with the bears at Brooks Camp, and along the coast. Both of my wolf interactions were along the coast and that set me up with some interesting questions. While doing research for work, I found that Quest University in Canada is also studying a component of wolves interacting with the coastal environment.

I saw wolves in Hallo Bay, but not as “up-close” as I did in Swikshak Bay. There was a pack with a den on the other side of the sedge meadows. Often you could hear them or see them resting on top of a hill. It occurred to me, that the wolves I had seen were white to tan in color. While working in Yellowstone I remember reading about a study in wolf genetics about fur color. The gene that causes a black coat of fur is dominant over gray/white. When I asked a travel guide who brings visitors to Hallo Bay, he mentioned that the wolves he remembers seeing were gray/tan coloration. It would be neat to see if and how the differences in environmental conditions play a role in the genetics of the wolves along Katmai.

With all that said, my last wolf encounter was special. The night before, Ranger Bob and I woke up to hearing wolves howling. What a tingling feeling I had. We knew a pack was around because of the number of tracks we saw on the beach, but hearing them throughout the night was amazing. Then in the morning, Ranger Bob and I were just sitting on the beach and were surprised when we saw a wolf walking in our direction. This wolf was different, she was smaller than the wolf I saw in May, and appeared younger. She was timid and attempted to walk past us, but then got nervous and went back to go around us. Ranger Bob and I sat still, and were snapping photos and taking video. After five minutes of giving us a show, she left and continued on her way. Down the beach was a carcass of a stellar sea lion and from our adventuring, we had learned that the wolf pack, brown bears, ravens, and sea gulls were eating it. The wolf was probably walking to the carcass when she ran into us. Sure enough, 20 minutes after she left us, we saw her pulling on the carcass pile.

My favorite thing, she rolled in it just like our dogs do.
Gotta roll in the stinky thing.

Articles about dogs in the ancient world:
More than Man’s Best Friend: Archaeology Magazine
Researcher finds oldest known domesticated dog in Americas: Archaeo News
Buried Dogs Were Divine “Escorts” for Ancient Americans: National Geographic News

6 thoughts on “From Terror To Daring – Wolf Encounters

  1. What a great read! How much longer will you be in AK, any idea where you will be next? I really enjoy seeing/reading your adventures!


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