Found in Gros Morne: The One Fish Wolf Pack

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The Atlantic Wolffish. Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

Gros Morne National Park is home to countless amazing species that will leave you in awe. Tourists seek to experience breaching whales, soaring eagles, and the mighty moose (just preferably not on the highway at 2am). There are many species that are not sought out though, and among these are the bottom dwellers living in the dark, cold, salty waters of Bonne Bay. These creatures are often scoffed at by those who do encounter them, but perhaps a new PR campaign is what these lowlifes need to change minds! One of the most fascinating and important species found in the cool waters of Bonne Bay is the Atlantic or striped wolffish.

Noodle, the wolffish at the Bonne Bay Marine Station.

The Atlantic wolffish has a large head compared to its elongated body, broad pectoral fins, striped patterns, and (as the name implies) a strong jaw with canine like teeth. When fully grown they can be as heavy as 20kg and up to 150cm long — that’s comparable to an adult wolf! The average life span of a wolffish is between 10 and 11 years of age, but they do not become mature adults until the old age of eight. In the September of their eighth year the hitherto solitary wolffish finds a mate and reproduces via internal fertilization — uncommon for fish species. The female lays her eggs in a cave or cavity between rocks that is big enough for both parents, who will protect the eggs until the young wolffish are old enough to go out on their lonesome.

Wolffish… make use of their powerful bite to snack on sea urchins, crabs, snails, and other invertebrates found on the ocean floor.

Wolffish do not actually eat other fish, but they make use of their powerful bite to snack on sea urchins, crabs, snails, and other invertebrates found on the ocean floor. They are considered to be a keystone species particularly because they control sea urchin populations. Urchins love to eat kelp, so much so that if there are enough of them they can devour an entire kelp forest, which is home to a lot of other species. The destruction of kelp forests is akin to deforestation on land, so it is a good to have these guys around.

The Atlantic wolffish is a species of special concern, and the Arctic wolffish is a species at risk since populations of wolffish have been declining. The population crash is caused by overfishing, becoming by-catch in other fisheries, and the disturbance of their environment due to bottom trawling. They may not look tasty, but these fish have a meat that a lot of people enjoy eating, and they were once were a targeted species.

Although wolffish spend most of their lives lying still in the deep waters of Bonne Bay, they are an incredibly interesting species. If you are interested in seeing a live wolffish without the risk of losing a finger you can visit the Bonne Bay Marine Station and meet Noodle, the resident Atlantic Wolffish.

Produced with assistance from the Bonne Bay Marine Station and the Ocean Learning Partnership.

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Alistair Ozon

Alistair is an Environmental and Earth Science student at Dalhousie University, and originally from Dartmouth Nova Scotia. This summer he is working with the Bonne Bay Marine Station, Ocean Learning Partnership, and Parks Canada.