Coastal Wolves Of British Columbia

Last Updated on August 26, 2021 by Stone

Coastal wolves are found mainly where the temperate Great Bear Rain Forest of British Columbia meets the pacific ocean. This is about 21 million acres and is a very different habitat than we traditionally think of for wolves (e.g., Yellowstone). The dense old-growth forest offers much protection, and there are many options to make a den among the root systems of the ancient trees. The huge area in which they live and the abundance of places to slip away from the curious eyes of humans make seeing one incredibly rare. This population is genetically distinct, having been isolated to their marine ecosystem for thousands of years. 

Credit: Paul Nicklen/Courtesy of SeaLegacy

Other populations reside in southeastern Alaska, though overall, sea wolves have declined in number over time. Amazingly, they once were found all the way down to California, back when it had its own temperate rain forest. Now they only go as far south as just north of Vancouver.

Gray Wolf Compared to Coastal Wolf

Exhaustive DNA studies show these wolves are genetically distinct from the gray wolves found on the mainland. They differ as follows: in behavior⸺swimming from one island to another preying on sea life; physically⸺smaller stature and skulls, reddish tinge to fur; diet⸺they get up to 90% of their food from the ocean, everything from clams and salmon to beached marine mammals like seals. Like most wolves, they are highly social and brilliant intellectually.

Gray Wolf

Coastal Wolf

5 feet long (152 cm) 

3.5 feet long (107 cm)

Male 154 lbs (70 kg) 

80 lbs (36 Kg)

Similar in size to Great Pyrenees dog

Similar in size to a German Shepard dog

A mainland gray wolf’s fur is gray with black flecks;  the fur of the coastal wolf is grey with red and brown tinges. This is reminiscent of their cousin, the Red Wolf. The reddish-tinged fur helps them blend in with the rocks found on the shoreline. 

This Wolf is a Swimmer

They roam the rainforest and inlets but are not limited to the land. They are excellent swimmers, so the ocean and surrounding islands are also fair game. In fact, they will swim miles out to islands looking for food. The longest swim recorded was more than seven miles!

Unique Diet of the Coastal Sea Wolf

They don’t always need to swim to these islands: as I mentioned, they are very smart. They know that seals and sea lions like to rest on the islands around the shore, and they wait until the tide goes down and the water recedes to try to catch one of these large mammals who might wake up from a nap to find themselves far from the water’s edge and safety.  Low tide also opens up a shoreline previously covered with water and a potential buffet for the wolves. They will forage for things like clams and barnacles⸺in fact, up to 90% of their diet is obtained from marine resources. They will even hunt salmon as they swim upriver to spawn. Because they are so reliant on the ocean for food and spend so much time in the water, they are often referred to as marine mammals. Most wolves in the world typically hunt large prey like elk and deer. Coastal wolves live very different lives and have a very different diet than the mainland Gray Wolf, the Red Wolf, or distant cousins like the Ethiopian Wolf.

What Does the Future Hold for the Coastal Sea Wolf?

Coastal wolves are unique in that they have not been hunted to extinction as wolves have in the rest of North America. Living in the isolated wilderness of the Great Bear Rainforest, sea wolves have also benefitted from a special relationship with coastal First Nations people (indigenous) who have long offered the wolf a place of respect and admiration within their cultures. As always there is much to be learned from indigenous peoples and how they treat the planet. Despite this, these wolves still face pressures from sport and trophy hunters, clear-cut logging, and the extraction of natural resources.

If you have a few minutes, check out this beautifully mini-documentary below.

How can you help?

You could consider a donation to the International Wolf FoundationWith your support, they aim to spread the facts about wolves and work to ensure their survival around the globe.Their mission is: 

The International Wolf Center advances the survival of wolf populations by teaching about wolves, their relationship to wildlands and the human role in their future.

Another great organization is the Defenders of Wildlife. Their mission is: 

Defenders of Wildlife is dedicated to the protection of all native animals and plants in their natural communities.

Founded in 1947, Defenders of Wildlife is the premier U.S.-based national conservation organization dedicated to the protection and restoration of imperiled species and their habitats in North America. 

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13 thoughts on “Coastal Wolves Of British Columbia”

  1. Hello there! I have always been a fan of animals ever since I was a child. It was always fun and interesting to learn about the different types of animals, their characteristics, habitat, and all that. Your post provided just that about wolves. That’s good that these creatures have not been hunted down to extinction. I would love to encounter some one day (not for hunting of course) and watch it interact with its environment. Thanks for creating this post!

  2. Hi there! I went through your post and believe me, I found it very informative. I am glad I came across this article today. Little did I know that wolves are great swimmers. I only thought they fall into the family of cats. Now, can the wolves make friends with human beings? Can they be reared at home or they are naturally wild animals?
    Anyway thanks for sharing this educative piece of writng.

  3. What a beautiful animal!  We have wolves here in Florida.  Do you think they are coastal wolves as well?  I am all about saving and making sure there is a future for animals like the wolf.  Too many animals are slaughtered for food, or hides and such.  In Alaska, the whale is hunted for its blubber and for its hide which sells for a huge fortune.  Only the Alaskan Eskimos are supposed to be able to hunt them.  Yet, many do.  Pretty sad.

    • So true. In Florida what you are seeing is probably coyotes. The Florida black wolf has been extinct since the 1930s. The closest wild wolves are in a protected area in North Carolina and at one point this year their numbers were down to about only 10. There were extinct in the wild for many years and captive wolves were released as a part of a breeding program. The numbers topped out at about 150 before they were persecuted and killed. Recently more captive wolves were released but the situation remains poor.

      Thanks for reading!

  4. Such a majestic animal! I’ve never heard of them. It’s crazy that they spend so much time in the water and were considered marine mammals. Thank you sharing!

  5. Hello Stone,

    Thank you for this great post, and your concern for these magnificent creatures.  My experience with them is pretty limited–the occasional Zoo visit years ago, and a great video on the preparation for and eventual relocation of a family of wolves (eventually to, I think, Idaho or Montana).

    I wonder how their diet became so dependent on the ocean–are they isolated from the mainland?  I look forward to watching the Call of the Coastal Wolves video later this morning, and visiting your links to other wolf cousins.  I had no idea that Coastal wolves existed–and their diet is amazing. 

    Thanks again for your post–most informative and enjoyable.

    Best wishes and good luck with your visit to that Arctic Wolf sanctuary,



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