Wolf Eel Photos

Anarrhichthys ocellatus              by Scott Boyd

The friendly, but fierce looking wolf-eel is a favorite of Pacific Northwest divers. They can often be spotted peering out of the many crevices and holes in popular local dive sites. When lured out of there dens in search of their favorite food (Sea Urchins), this impressive fish is a sight to behold, growing to a maximum length of 8’. While not a true eel (eels have no pectoral fins), wolfies are actually a fish with an elongated body and are referred to by scientists as a “wolf-fish”.

Wolf-eels range from southeastern Alaska to southern California typically living in rocky reef-type habitats from the intertidal zone down to about 740 feet. Their coloration starts with a burnt orange spotted look, and then changes to gray for males and brown for females. Both males and females have a dorsal fin that stretches from head to the end of their 6-8 foot long body, and both have spot patterns that appear to be individualized. Scales are imbedded in the skin. Their diet consists of sea urchins, crabs, scallops -- assorted crustaceans and mollusks. They eat these with the help of conical teeth in the front and strong pulverizing molars in back.

Males and females form pairs at about 4 years of age and produce eggs at 7 years old. Spawning usually occurs from October into late winter. A male will butt his head against the female's abdomen then wrap himself around her as a sign for a mating call. It has been found that the male fertilizes the eggs as they are laid and up to 10 000 eggs can be released at a single time. The father and mother will then wrap themselves around the egg masses and will guard the eggs for about 13-16 weeks when the eggs will then hatch. Possible predators that prey on the eggs include rockfishes and kelp greenlings. Wolf-eels sometimes mate for life.

During the juvenile years, Wolf-eels can most commonly be found in the upper part of the water column, residing there for about two years. As the Wolf-eel ages, it will slowly migrate to the ocean floor eventually finding a rock shelter where it will mate and homestead for the remainder of its lifespan.

This species is of minor commercial importance and is also caught by deep-sea recreational anglers. The flesh of the Atlantic wolf-eel is commonly marketed as "ocean catfish." At the moment, many fishers use rock hopper trawls to fish rough, rocky sea floors. This method causes the destruction of the rocky reefs in which the Wolf-eel resides and many scientists are calling for a halt to this practice.

More Wolf Eel photos can also be found in our Wolf Eel Picture Gallery.