Dr. Steven James, Professor of Anthropology, California State University, Fullerton, discusses the wild dogs of San Nicolas Island and on the other Channel Islands.
Domestic dogs lived on San Nicolas Island. Archeological investigations have found remains of prehistoric dogs in over 20 archeological sites on the island. The only other carnivore on the island is the small San Nicolas Island fox.
Humans introduced both the domestic dog and island fox to the island. Recent research indicates that prehistoric Native Americans probably brought the island fox to San Nicolas and neighboring Channel Islands about 5,000 to 7,000 years ago.
Domestic dogs were very important to the Nicoleño people and to Native Americans on the other Channel Islands. The dogs were used in hunting marine mammals and waterfowl, as guards to warn of intruders, and as pets and companions.
Sea otter hunters George Nidever and Carl Dittman described wild dogs on San Nicolas Island in the 1850s, and passages in Scott O’Dell’s novel Island of the Blue Dolphins discussed the fierce “wild dogs” that were once on the island.
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Learn about wild dogs on the Channel Islands.
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Dr. Steven James, Professor of Anthropology, California State University, Fullerton, discusses whether wild dogs of Alaskan breeds were found on San Nicolas Island.
Scientists who study the remains of dead animals, such as bones or shells, are called zooarcheologists. Based on zooarcheological studies, two sizes of dogs have been found on San Nicolas Island, that of a short-nosed dog and a medium-to-large-size dog.
When American sea captain George Nidever was searching for the Lone Woman on San Nicolas in 1853, he observed that the “wild dogs” were the size of a coyote, but that their fur was black and white in color.
Two later accounts mention that the black and white dogs may have been an Alaskan breed left behind by the Aleut otter hunters in the early 1800s (nineteenth century). However, the presence of an Alaskan dog breed on San Nicolas Island has not been verified by archeological research.
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Learn about the dog breeds found on San Nicolas Island.
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Last updated: November 7, 2017