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Types of Wolves: Gray Wolf

© written by Tasha Guenther

Gray Wolf Subspecies: Vancouver Island Wolf

Vancouver Island Wolf
Vancouver Island Wolf and pup; Photographer, David Gillespie;
used with permission under C.C. BY 2.0

I was recently on Vancouver Island for a sea kayaking trip. I spent 6 days travelling along the west coast of Vancouver Island on the famous Clayoquot Sound. It was amazing—great weather, relatively calm seas, and lots and lots and lots of wild life to see. It was not until Ahous Bay, however, that we came across the most magnificent animals. Upon arrival to the bay’s very long beach to set up camp, we spent time sitting in the water watching gray whales breach the surface. Apparently there were as many as 10 in the bay at one time feeding! In my kayak, we were about only 2.5 metres away from a large whale as it breached and spouted out water from its blowhole! What a fishy smell! That's not something you normally learn from books.

This was not the only marine wildlife we would see during our two-day stay on Ahous Bay, however; we also saw one sea lion with a salmon in its mouth, two seals chasing around a bait ball (a tight-knit swirling ball of fish--they do this to defend themselves from predators like seals, whales, and sharks), and tons of porpoises!

Even more spectacular is the experience we had with… a Vancouver Island wolf! After kayaking next to the whales when we first arrived, and as we approached closer and closer to the shore, I saw something trotting along the beach. At first, I thought, “this is a hiker’s dog roaming around! Strange!” As I got a closer look, I noticed that this was much larger than a dog. This being the first wolf I had ever seen in the wild, I was so excited. Not only that, but I was astonished at how curious this predator was of us in our kayaks, and how close it got to the area where we would be camping for the next two nights.

Funnily enough, I saw this Vancouver Island wolf during the period of time when I was researching and writing this wolves section!

After seeing the wolf, I decided to learn more about the predator I had seen before my very own eyes. In doing so, I realized just how lucky we were. The Vancouver Island wolf is one of the most mysterious of all subspecies of gray wolves. It is rarely seen by humans, with most of its activity occurring during late hours of the night or very early hours of the morning (which was when we saw it). It is also an extremely endangered subspecies of gray wolf and is only found on this small island off the west coast of British Columbia, Canada. And since we were on an even smaller island (Vargas) just off the coast of this island, these wolves had to, at some point, have swam across the ocean. Incredible!

This Vancouver Island wolf, like other wolves in British Columbia, is the most dominant predator where it lives. Even other competing predators in wolf territory--lynx, black bears, coyotes, bobcats, wolverines, river otters, etc.--are wolf prey! Of course, as said in the food section, this is because wolves, like the Vancouver Island wolf, travel and hunt in packs of five to 20! Of course, because Vancouver Island is so small compared to the mainland, these wolves are lucky to have an abundance of deer to prey on--this means that their territory ranges are usually a lot smaller than other subspecies of gray wolf.

Interestingly, these wolves have adapted greatly to their habitat along the coast. During low tide (when the waves are farther out), Vancouver Island wolves scavenge through the mussells, clams, and crabs left along the beach!