Wolves turn into sea wolves by feeding primarily on sea otters

Tam-Tri Le
Phenikaa University (Hanoi, Vietnam)

February 1, 2023

Changing one’s regular diet can be a big deal for many people. But in the cases of wild animals, adapting to significant dietary changes can be the difference between life and death.

It is commonly thought that a wolf population will be in serious trouble if they run out of their usual meals – hoofed mammals, which was a reality for wolves on the Coronation Island of Alaska. However, a recent study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences reported that wolves (Canis lupus) on Alaska’s Pleasant Island turned to feed on sea otters (Enhydra lutris) after they finished off most of the deer population in the area [1].

Figure: Predator-prey interactions on Coronation Island (above) and Pleasant Island (below); from Roffler et al. (2023) [1]; CC BY-NC-ND 4.0.

Interestingly, both wolves and sea otters are apex predators, but the melting of local glaciers has led to greater direct interactions between the two species. In 2015, deer accounted for 75% of the wolves’ diet, but this number fell to only 7% in 2017 when sea otters became the main prey (about 60% diet) [2]. “The addition of sea otters has changed the game and allowed them to be sea wolves, living on primarily marine resources,” said one of the above study’s authors [2].

The new diet required the wolves to change their hunting strategies. They have to wait for the opportunity to ambush when the otters come out of the water. It is suggested that this intriguing diet-shifting phenomenon may, in fact, be the reintroduction of an ancient food web of land-sea interactions [2].

Sometimes, we also have to change our diet to adapt to new living conditions. Food stress is an important aspect of acculturation, becoming a more apparent issue in today’s globalized world [3]. Luckily, we humans have many more options and support compared to wild wolves regarding sustenance and dietary changes.


[1] Roffler G, Eriksson C, Allen J, Levi T. (2023). Recovery of a marine keystone predator transforms terrestrial predator-prey dynamics. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 120(5), e2209037120.

[2] Tamisiea, J. (2023, January 23). When deer disappear off the menu, hungry wolves turn to sea otters. Science.

[3] Jin R, et al. (2023). A Gender Study of Food Stress and Implications for International Students Acculturation. World, 4(1), 80-94.

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