Cold temperate to subpolar north Atlantic Ocean
Rocky reefs and hard bottoms
Order Cottiformes (sculpins and relatives), Family Anarhichadidae (wolffishes)
Even a quick glance at an Atlantic wolffish, and an observer knows how it earned its common name. It has very large teeth that stick out of its mouth, even when closed, giving it a ferocious appearance. Despite this look, Atlantic wolffish are not aggressive towards people and are not known to bite people unless they are provoked. They have long, eel-like bodies and are sometimes known as “wolf eels” but are not eels. Instead, they are advanced fish that are closely related to sculpins.
Atlantic wolffish are voracious predators, and the large head, powerful jaws, and large canine teeth are all used to hunt and eat hard-bodied or spiny invertebrates, such as sea urchins, crabs, large marine snails, etc. They reach lengths of up to five feet (1.5 m).
Atlantic wolffish are usually solitary but form pairs during the breeding season. They mate via internal fertilization, and females spawn relatively large eggs, which both sexes guard until they hatch. This level of parental care is rare among fishes. Individuals have even been known to mate and nest in public aquariums, guarding their eggs for several months.
These fish are restricted to the cold waters of the north Atlantic Ocean, and their blood contains several natural compounds that prevent it from freezing. Atlantic wolffish are good table fare, and throughout its range, it is fished by both recreational fishers and occasional commercial net fishers. It is slow to mature and likely naturally rare, and over the last several decades, scientists have observed steep declines in its numbers. In the United States it is considered a species of concern. As many ecologists consider the Atlantic wolffish to be a keystone species in north Atlantic Ocean food webs, regulating populations of sea urchins and other invertebrates, it is important to consider conservation measures for this rocky reef predator.
Oceana joined forces with Sailors for the Sea, an ocean conservation organization dedicated to educating and engaging the world’s boating community. Sailors for the Sea developed the KELP (Kids Environmental Lesson Plans) program to create the next generation of ocean stewards. Click here or below to download hands-on marine science activities for kids.