When most of us think of wolves, images of dark forests deep within rugged terrain come to mind. We envision them preying on other wildlife living within their realm, such as rabbits, elk, deer and other furry mammals. What we don’t usually think of is them subsiding primarily on a fisherman’s diet and frolicking in the sea for hours on end in pursuit of it. But that’s exactly how British Columbia’s rare sea wolves survive.
Also known as coastal wolves, these beautiful creatures are different from their land-bound cousins. Living on the ocean’s edge and inhabiting various small islands, as much as 90 percent of their diet comes directly from the sea, with 25 percent of that made up from salmon. Some researchers say many of them live their entire lives without possibly ever having seen a hoofed animal, their larger cousins’ nutritional mainstay.
Wildlife of the Pacific Northwest
BC’s sea wolves are smaller in size than their tundra-stalking relatives and devote much of their time to island hopping. As you can imagine, there’s a lot of swimming involved when attempting to reach the remote outer islands off the coast. Their population, like their size, is also relatively small as compared to other wolves. It’s this rareness that has made them the interest of researchers and photographers alike.
Chris Darimont, science director of the Raincoast Conservation Foundation, has studied coastal wolves for nearly two decades now. Recently, he shared some interesting facts in connection to this seldom-seen population of gray wolf. For starters, there are two distinct populations of these unique predators, the island variety and the coastal variety, with the coastal wolves living on a slightly less-exclusive seafood diet. They both enjoy dining on seals, however.
Sea Wolf Traits
Besides being excellent swimmers, capable of covering over seven miles of open-ocean at a time, both groups are smaller in size than gray wolves in other parts of the country, predominantly due to diet. The coastal wolves are said to be about 20 percent larger than the island dwellers. To put it in perspective, you could liken the islanders to a German shepherd while the coastal versions are closer in size to, say, a Great Pyrenees and they're often reddish brown in color.
Sea Wolf Territory
At one time, the rare and beautiful sea wolf traversed from Alaska all the way down into California in its once temperate rain forests. Nowadays, their dwindling numbers can only be found as far south as just north of Vancouver and up into Southeastern Alaska. Their elusive nature and remote terrain make them a rarity to view, even for people residing in those areas. The hope is their numbers will not decline further. With proper conservation efforts, maybe we can make that happen.