The Wildest Wolves in the World
Mysterious and elusive, wolves have had a bad rap throughout history. In addition to their mythical job of gobbling girls in red cloaks and sneaking around in fake lamb suits, wolves have been feared and reviled to the point where they’ve been hunted out of existence in many parts of North America. For decades, hunters were encouraged—even paid bounties—to kill wolves for fear that they would harm livestock or people living near their territory. It’s an unbalanced stereotype, to be sure: while wolves have indeed been known to pick off the odd stray calf or two, to date there hasn’t been a single verified attack on a human. While they still roam much of Canada due to its huge tracts of wilderness, wolves are under constant threat of hunting for sport or for their fur. No restrictions exist to control or limit the way wolves are hunted. In no way is this intelligent, social, family-dwelling animal protected.
British Columbia is home to the gray wolf. A specialized population of these wolves makes its home along the wet western fringe of Canada, in the temperate Great Bear Rainforest that borders the Pacific Ocean. This is the coastal wolf. Smaller and redder than its inland cousins, the coastal wolf lives in harmony with the other species of the Great Bear Rainforest: otters, seals, black bears, grizzly bears, eagles, moose, cougars, mountain goats and, of course, the salmon.
Highly social, the coastal wolf lives in close-knit communities, similar to humans. Relatively untouched by human contact, this particular population of animals can teach us a lot about wolf behavior. For centuries, the coastal wolves have shared the rainforest with First Nations groups, each allowing the other the space and respect they need. Many current wolf dens in the Great Bear Rainforest can be found at ancient First Nations village sites.
Some coastal wolves make their homes on the mainland. Others live among the many small islands that crowd the coastline. Swimming like the otters and fishing like the bears that share its misty marine world, the coastal wolf subsists on a diet of deer, moose, mountain goats, salmon, crabs and even shellfish.
There is no wolf like it anywhere else on Earth.
A Delicate Balance on the Edge of the World
The coastal wolves are a truly unique population. Skilled hunters and fishers, these animals are the apex predator of the Great Bear Rainforest. A number of years ago, photographer Ian McAllister witnessed a pack of coastal wolves take down a fully mature adult bear. “Ripped to shreds” were his words, actually (The Last Wild Wolves, Greystone Books, 2007). These are not your average wolves.
And this is not your average wolf habitat. This is the coastal temperate rainforest—one of the rarest and most endangered forest types on Earth. Richer in biomass than the Amazon and home to trees in excess of 1,500 years old, the Great Bear Rainforest encompasses more than 25,000 kilometers of coastline.
But this extraordinary ecosystem is at risk from human activity. Clear-cut logging in the Great Bear Rainforest threatens to change the face of the watershed, filling up the streams with silt and removing the trees that provide shelter for the deer during heavy winter snowstorms. And fewer deer mean fewer wolves. The salmon that forms up to half the wolf’s diet—a “keystone” species in the rainforest—is under threat too. Without it, nothing will flourish. Yet in recent years, overfishing, the destruction of salmon spawning grounds by human activity, climate change and diseases spread by fish farms have led to a zero return in some rivers. It’s the start of a cascade of negative events that will ultimately affect the whole chain of life in the forest.
Your Power as an Educator
As a teacher, you have the power to effect positive change by working with your students to raise awareness about the Great Bear Rainforest—and the coastal wolves that call it home.
Here are just a few ideas for how you can use The Sea Wolves: Living Wild in the Great Bear Rainforest in your classroom:
A. Watch the half-hour documentary The Last Wild Wolves with your class. You can find the documentary in three parts on the Pacific Wild website.
B. Write. Personal letters are one of the most powerful tools we have at our disposal to make our concerns known. Guide your students in writing letters to their elected representatives, as well as members of the opposition, newspapers and business leaders. For more information about writing letters to local and national newspapers, visit Pacific Wild—Take Action.
C. As a class, visit pacificwild.org and take action. At Pacific Wild, you’ll find plenty of opportunities for students to voice their opinions.
Visit the Resources page for further links and ideas.
Look inside the book
Buy the book
The Sea Wolves
by Ian McAllister and
Also by Ian McAllister and Nicholas Read:
The Salmon Bears
by Ian McAllister and