Rare ‘Sea Wolves’ Have Abilities That No Other Canines On Earth Have

For centuries, wolves have been feared by villagers who feel the canines might snatch children from beds or wreak havoc on the village’s livestock. Wolves, those villagers think, are snarling animals thirsty for blood and hungry for red meat.

While these legends have been amplified due to the fact that most wolves spend their time hunting in packs on land, there is one type of wolf that breaks all of those lupine stereotypes — and it will change the way you look at the breed forever…

There are three recognized species of wolves with numerous subspecies varying from region to region. These packs are made up of fearsome predators who easily dominate their prey. Their main nutritional source is red meat.

Detroit Audubon

The most common and well-known wolf is the gray wolf. These wolves live all over the world, but the second largest gray wolf population inhabits Canada. In fact, 90 percent of the historic habitat range remains the same for these gray wolves.


Although Gray Wolves widely inhabit Canada, there is a small group of wolf species that lives in a remote part of Canada. Many locals have never heard of them, and most Canadians have never seen one in the wild.

They might be widely mistaken for one of the three main wolf species, but they are quite different in every way from their hunting habits, living environments, and their demeanor. They live a totally different lifestyle on the secluded coast of British Columbia.

This wolf inhabits the vast 250 miles of coastline and roughly 25,000-square miles of forest in the Great Bear Rainforest. Glaciers have carved out massive fjords with dangerously steep inclines and finger-like tidal areas that drain into the rich ocean teeming with marine life. What animal would be tough enough to live here?


A sea wolf, of course! They get their name for their preferred diet of seafood only. There are several months out of the year that sea wolves strictly prey on fresh salmon entering the ocean, but that’s not all they will eat from the plentiful coast.

sea-wolf-1Ian McAllister

Sea wolves also hunt larger animals like sea lions and seals. Sometimes they opt to eat a far less strenuous meal by digging up clams or catching crabs under rocks. So, the first way these creatures differ from your average wolf is by diet. Some sea wolves go their whole lives without ever even seeing a deer.

sea-wolf-2Ian McAllister

According to Ian McAllister, a photographer who has studied these animals for more than 20 years, “DNA studies show that these wolves are genetically distinct from their continental kin.” So, while they may have “wolf” in their name, they’re actually something quite different.

Paul Nicklen

“They are also behaviorally distinct,” said McAllister, “swimming from island to island and preying on sea animals.” They are capable of swimming for miles to get from one island to another. They can also completely survive by island hopping without ever needing to leave the coastline.

sea-wolves-6Ian McAllister

McAllister also stated, “They are also morphologically distinct — they are smaller in size and physically different from their mainland counterparts.” This main physiological difference can be attributed to the distinct evolutionary path the two wolves experienced. The smaller wolves, sea wolves (left), being more agile and better equipped for aquatic living.

As mentioned, the wolves’ favorite foods are clams, mussels, and salmon. They have access to plenty of land-dwelling creatures upon which to feast, but for some reason — probably due to their genetic makeup — they prefer the saltier things in life.

sea-wolves-4Ian McAllister

Scientists and researchers believe that sea wolves would eat even more salmon than they do already if it were not for the presence of large bears. The sea wolves (wisely) leave the fish grounds alone when bears are present and will not compete with the far larger predator for fish.

sea-wolves-8Ian McAllister

But don’t think these unique wolves are shy, either! Ian was able to swim right up to them and get some truly amazing shots. “The curious canines approached me so closely that I could hear them grunting into my snorkel,” he said. “I took several frames, then pushed back into the deeper water without daring to look up.”

sea-wolves-7Ian McAllister

Thanks to McAllister’s diligent research and beautiful photographs, we can all finally get an up-close look at these rare wolves and see the magical world in which they live in. Can we get as close as Ian did? Likely not — but these photographs sure can make it feel that way.

McAllister is encouraging the British Columbia and Canadian government to list sea wolves as a species and recognize their evolutionary differences and significance. If he can get the government to do so, then it would help protect sea wolves in terms of conservation.

sea-wolves-5Ian McAllister

“Currently, they are not only unrecognized but completely unprotected,” he said. “They can be hunted and trapped even within protected areas. There is nowhere within their range on the central and north coast of British Columbia, where they are free of human [persecution].”

sea-wolf-3Ian McAllister

It is believed that these creatures used to live along the Pacific Coast from northern California to Alaska. Human inhabitants settling in the area drove them from their homes and drastically decreased their range.

Ian McAllister

“The government still considers wolves as vermin,” McAllister said. “We have learned a lot and society has changed in how it views wolves, but there is still a lot of work to be done to really recognize how fortunate British Columbia is to have these unique wolf populations.”

Pacific Wild

In 2018, McAllister was prepared to really spearhead the educational aspect of his photography and research so the general public and government leaders had the knowledge needed to advocate for these creatures. He even worked with National Geographic on magazine articles to kick off his campaign.

Pacific Wild

So if you travel to the coast of British Columbia, keep your eyes peeled! Who knows, you might just get a chance to catch a peek of one of Mother Nature’s unique animals — and scientists are learning more about these canines all the time.

Ian McAllister

One study, conducted from DNA found in Siberia, suggests that there are at least 27,000 years between the modern dog and wolf. Despite similarities in their appearance, it’s clear that, at some point, the evolutionary paths of both animals diverged. And while dogs still have wolf-like instincts, it wasn’t known until recently how dog-like wolves really are.

1-dogs-and-wolvesCounselling / Pixabay

Wolves actively fear humans, and they avoid territory occupied by them. They’re also far more independent than their domesticated counterparts despite their pack-like mentality. For example, when wolf packs go hunting, the pups are often left alone to learn to take care of themselves.


Dorottya Ujfalussy, from Eötvös Loránd University in Hungary, was more interested in the similarities between the two animals, though. For example, both wolves and dogs like to greet each other by licking the other’s faces. Similarly, both dogs and wolves can understand certain human gestures, like pointing fingers — something chimps actually struggle to understand!

Don Johnston / All Canada Photos / Corbis

Ujfalussy conducted a study that analyzed the characteristics exhibited by wolves that were raised by human caregivers. Ten grey wolves pups participated, seven females and three males, all of which were raised by humans and lived in captive packs.


The pups started the program when they were only 4-6 days old and were assigned to a foster parent. They spent 22-24 hours a day in close contact with their caregiver and were socialized in a domestic way.

Dorottya Júlia Ujfalussy

For the first four-to-six weeks, the pups were carried in pouches. Later, they were leash trained so they could be exposed to domestic social situations, like encountering human strangers, novel objects, and urban settings. They were also socialized with their littermates several times per week.


After about one year of care, the wolves were assimilated back into a wolf pack environment. All the while, scientists made some remarkable observations and concluded there was one common dog-like trait observed in all their wolves.


The common trait? Wolves who associated nurture with a human exhibited a unique attachment to their specific caregiver. There was an evident level of trust and companionship prominent between the pair.


Royal Society Open Science published this research on June 27, 2017, which concluded not only did wolves express a connection to their human caregiver, but these feelings lasted through the animals’ adulthood, even if they still retained their inherent sense of fear toward humans.


Such observations led researchers to believe the common ancestor of dogs and wolves may have actually been open to human companionship, leading to the evolution of the friendlier, cuddlier ancestor — the dog that we all know and love.


Upon further observation of the behavior between wolf and human, it was noted that when socializing, wolves approached a human similarly to the way they would approach a member of their pack. This would include contact seeking and submissive behavior.

8-dogs-and-wolvesSander van der Wel / Flickr

Wolves approached their human caregiver with lowered-body posture with lowered ears and low wagging tail. They would also display face-to-face oriented licking, jumping, and pawing, usually followed by a leaning or rubbing/nudging motion on the human.


Kathryn Lord of University of Massachusetts Medical School stated, “this result is exciting, not because wolves are more social than we thought, but because it is a step in uncovering the complexities of the differences between dogs and wolves in how they interact with humans.”

Learning the key differences between wolves and dogs can only help us further understand the ancestral lineage and evolutionary divergence that has lead to the wolf and dog species we know today.

Saltie Croc

Like any thorough scientific study, there were a number of other observations and conclusions made. Perhaps the most important one, though, was that as much as wolves have the capacity to connect with humans, they are not domesticated animals.


They are still wild by nature, and they still are an entirely different species than dogs, even if raised by humans. This means that people should not try and domesticate wild wolves or wolf pups!


“The problem starts when people disregard the advice of professionals and mistake wolves for dogs, keeping them as pets,” Ujfalussy said. “This is a serious welfare issue for wolves, as 99 percent of those animals will eventually be given up and usually euthanized.”


This is especially true when wolves are taken out of their natural habitats to live with humans. Moreover, studies of a dog’s brain prove that they are truly happier around us — even more than when they’re around other dogs! Humans reduce stress in dogs. Yet, that’s not the case with wild wolves.

6-dogs-and-wolvesMike Baird / Flickr

This research was quite groundbreaking. “What we learned from our study is that while dogs may be more attached to their human caretaker in the sense of dependence and using their owners as a secure base,” Ujfalussy said, “wolves are also able to form lasting affiliative relationships with their caretakers, though without a sense of dependence.”


Ujfalussy’s final note was: “Basically, wolves are wild animals, more independent, hard to control, hard to manage, and health-keeping conditions are impossible to provide in the human home, thus tame wolves kept as pets are a real danger to their environment and to themselves.”

12-wolves-and-dogsTambako the Jaguar / Flickr

These evolutionary ties can also make for some pretty startling interactions across species. Nick Jans, an Alaskan wildlife photographer, witnessed this phenomenon firsthand.

While sitting on his porch with his dog, Nick witnessed a wolf emerge from the woods. Before he could react, his dog, Dakotah, ran straight for the wild animal.

wolf-meets-dog-1Nick Jans

Though he was initially terrified, Nick then saw something he never expected. He quickly grabbed his camera and snapped this photo.

wolf-meets-dog-5Nick Jans

The two animals seemed to have something in common: they wanted to play. As the two chased each other around, Nick decided to give the wolf a name — Romeo.

wolf-meets-dog-3Arnie Hanger

Apparently, this wasn’t the first time Romeo had such an encounter. The wolf had been making quite a reputation for himself down the way at Mendenhall Glacier Park, where he was often spotted playing with other dogs.

wolf-meets-dog-4Nick Jans

Though many people in the community were startled at first, Romeo won them over every time with his friendliness and charm. After all, he just wanted to play!

wolf-meets-dog-2Nick Hans

Soon Romeo became part of every dog owner in the area’s routine. He was about as quick to befriend the humans in the park as he was the other animals.

wolf-meets-dog-6Nick Jans

“He would even bring out toys that he’d stashed,” Nick said in an interview. “One was a Styrofoam float. Romeo would pick it up and bring it to [my friend] Harry to throw.”


Nick added that Romeo “clearly understood the same sort of behaviors that we see in dogs.” The happy family “wasn’t just our understanding and tolerance. It was the combination of his and ours and the dogs’.”

For six whole years, Romeo made frequent appearances. “We were these three species working out how to get along harmoniously. And we did.”

Over that time, Romeo became a sort of symbol to the local people of their close relationship with the Alaskan wilderness.


It wasn’t just the locals Romeo was attracting, but those from further away as well. Some people would travel to the park specifically to see these incredible interactions firsthand.


Still, while the locals knew him to be friendly, visitors were always a little wary — and for good reason. It is a wild animal chasing your beloved pet…


Despite this, Romeo was quick to steal the hearts of even the most frightened dog or human in his presence.


At times, it almost looked as though Romeo had some sort of magnetic force that those nearby simply couldn’t resist.


“He was downright relaxed and tolerant from the start,” Nick said, “as if he had dropped out of the sky like a unicorn.” Unfortunately, this was not to last.

Tragically, in 2009, Romeo was shot and killed by a group of hunters. The community and all those surrounding took it quite hard.

jans blog 2

Residents of Juneau then held a memorial service for the beloved wolf and even had a plaque made in his honor.

romeo-wolf-plaqueKlas Stolpe/Juneau Empire

That plaque is still there. Written on it are the words: “Romeo 2003-2009. The spirit of Juneau’s friendly black wolf lives on in this wild place.”


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