Atlantic Wolffish | Oceana Canada

Canadian Marine Life Encyclopedia

Atlantic Wolffish

Anarhichus lupus

Also known as

Striped wolffish, seawolf, seacat, ocean catfish

Distribution

Cold temperate to subpolar north Atlantic Ocean

Ecosystem/Habitat

Rocky reefs and hard bottoms

Feeding Habits

Aggressive predator

Conservation Status

Special concern/data deficient

Taxonomy

Order Cottiformes (sculpins & relatives); Family Anarhichadidae (wolffishes)

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With even just a brief glance, you can quickly figure out how the Atlantic wolffish was named. their large, canine-like teeth protrude from their mouths, giving them a wolf-like scowl. Behind these visible primary canine teeth are a cluster of five or six smaller canines, as well as three sets of crushing teeth on the roof of their mouths, used to grindhard-shelled prey. In spite of their slightly ferocious appearance and large teeth, Atlantic wolffish are not aggressive. They feed on slow-moving or sedentary prey such as sea urchins, crabs, molluscs and large snails. Atlantic wolffish are also incredibly well-adapted for cold water conditions, able to survive in water below 0°C, thanks to high concentrations of an antifreeze compound in their blood.

Atlantic wolffish were assessed and listed as a Special Concern by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) in 2000, and re-listed as such in 2012. They were also listed under Schedule 1 of the Species at Risk Act (SARA) as a Special Concern in 2003. Due to their long lifespan, late maturity and low reproduction rates, Atlantic wolffish populations are slow to recover after they have been greatly reduced. This is one of the main reasons for their listings as a Special Concern, as the population of Atlantic wolffish in Canadian waters declined by 87 per cent from the late 1970’ to the mid 1990s. However, with reduced fishing pressure as a result of groundfish fishery closures and improved bycatch reduction measures, Atlantic wolffish are still fairly widespread and populations are believed to be increasing.