Wade J., manager of curriculum programs at the Vancouver Aquarium, says he can relate to the wolf-eel (Anarrhichthys ocellatus) in the morning when he feels particularly grumpy. If you’ve ever seen a wolf-eel’s face then you know what he’s talking about.
The wolf-eel’s face is the primary reason Wade chose this fish as February’s Staff Pick of the Month.
“I think the thing I find most surprising is its ugly little face. I’m not saying that in a mean way, it’s just that you’re not expecting that, and it’s the first thing that strikes you.”
Its downturned mouth contains sharp, pointy teeth (like a wolf’s) – perfect for munching on sea urchins. And despite its long body, this fish is not part of the eel family. It belongs to the wolffish family, which is called Anarhichadidae (“Ah-na-ree-ca-dee-day” – we know, it’s a mouthful).
It’s a species found off the coast of Japan, and along the west coast of North America from Alaska to southern California.
Although they can be territorial and aggressive, Wade says, “They can also be quite curious and some would say ‘friendly.’” Indeed, some scuba divers say that wolf-eels occasionally come out of their hiding spots to investigate them, especially the “tame” ones. Some divers entice these fish out of their caves by feeding them sea urchins, and those that get used to the handouts do approach divers.
Wade says this fish is a “showstopper.” See it in Treasures of the BC Coast. But you’ll really have to use your eyes to scan the exhibit – this fish usually hides in rocky crevices.
Written by Karen Horak, writer-editor, content and digital experience at the Vancouver Aquarium.