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.
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.
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 Foundation. With 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.