Blog: A wolf-pack as our neighbors

Our land team at the Ryder2019 expedition participates to investigate both past and present-day ecology. This work includes studying predator-prey interactions as well as to investigations of how Greenland was colonized by various species. The team is therefore moving between different sites and spends about a week on each of them. The first site we visited was on Warming Land and little did we know that we would be having curious neighbors all through our stay there. Our closest neighbors were a pack of 3 adult arctic wolves with 3 small pups, who had taken residence at a muskoxen they recently had killed in the same valley as we intended to work. These animals were curious, and by the time we left of all of us had seen them at close range. We also had tracks close to camp and heard their voices through the night.

A pack of 3 adult wolwes and 3 pups.
Our neighbours was a small pack of 3 adult wolves and 3 pups. Photo: C. Carøe

Had to move the camp

They first came to visit as soon as we landed with the helicopters. A curious white wolf quickly approached us within seconds after landing and hung around for a good 15 minutes, moving up to less than five meters from us to check out who we were. We were probably as overwhelmed as it was. None of us had seen a wild polar wolf at such a short range, but the wolf had probably not seen any humans neither, nor helicopters for that matter.  A probable reason for this curiosity was that we, by a complete coincidence, had landed only 300 meters from the locations where they had their pups. To not disturb them further, we promptly moved our camp site 4-5 km away.

Despite this move, we came to meet the wolf and its pack almost every day while we were at Warming Land. While we were scanning the area for ancient and modern bones, spiders, insects and plants, we came to walk through their territory several times. Sometimes we passed quite close to the killed muskox from which they were still feeding. On those occasions they would show themselves to us. The common procedure was that the mother put some distance between us and her and the cubs, while the other two adults would approach us to check us out.

Curios Arctic Wolf investigate the researchers.
An arctic wolf came and investigated us just after we had landed with our helicopters on Warmingland. Photo: F. Dalerum

An opportunity to study the rare Greenlandic wolf

The polar wolf of Greenland is little investigated scientifically, although recent genomic research has shown that the population on Greenland and Ellesmere Island is very distinct from other wolf populations. Because the Greenlandic wolf is rare and the areas it lives in are rarely visited, only little is known about them. Our close encounters therefore gave us a unique opportunity to study them and bring back observations, photo material and a few biological samples of hair and scats collected from the area.

Image of an Arctic wolf.
The arctic wolf is probably the only subspecies of wolf that has not interbred with either domestic dogs or golden jackals. Photo: L. Dalén

The full pack gave a mighty good bye

When we arrived to Warming Land, the wolfpack was most likely one of the packs in the world with least human experience, but during the week they probably met us more than most other wolves meet humans during a full wolf-life. The last morning before we flew out they gave us a mighty goodbye with the full pack howling at a distance for a good 10 or 15 minutes. They left a standing impression on us, and we most likely did the same on them.

A wolf is howling.
One of the wolves howling to reconnect with its pack members. Photo: F. Dalerum

Text by: The land group at site 1

Last modified: 21 August 2019