A Vancouver Island woman and her dog on board a water taxi were in for a howl when spotting a Vancouver Coastal sea wolf swimming past them.
Maxine Gillette lives near Kyuquot and was travelling back from Campbell River with her German shepherd, Hiyuu, when she spotted a furry head bobbing in the Pacific Ocean off west Vancouver Island.
Luckily, she had a camera to capture the moment, which happened around 4:30 p.m. Sunday.
“I kind of just immediately went to the back of the boat to take videos. I think it was swimming to the island beside us, Union Island,” said Gillette, a stewardship officer with the Kyuquot/Cheklesahht First Nation.
In one video, Hiyuu is heard making a fuss.
“He was fine at first, he didn’t really know what to think of it. But when I started recording, he started barking at it,” Gillette told CHEK News with a laugh.
She says it was her first time seeing a wolf swim, which doesn’t come as a surprise to Gary Allen of the Nanaimo-based SWELL Wolf Education Centre.
According to the wolf expert, seeing one swim during the day is a “rare event.” That’s because they’re crepuscular creatures most active from dusk to dawn.
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“They’re such an elusive animal. They’re referred to as the ghost of the forest,” said Allen, noting he’s never seen a wolf swim either, despite his years of experience.
“They keep away from human contact because they live longer if they keep away from humans. We hunt them, we trap them, we shoot them. If they’re swimming, they can’t escape,” he said.
“They don’t have a forest to go into, so there’s a bit of risk for the wolf when swimming.”
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The sea wolf, a subspecies of the grey wolf, is known to swim eight to 10 kilometres in open ocean water, explains Allen. He calls them very intelligent animals that mostly feed on fish.
“They are very strong swimmers, and the water is very cold. It doesn’t matter whether it’s winter or summer,” he said.
“These wolves, they’re swimming four, five, eight kilometres — they’re not doing that in 15 minutes, that could be a two-hour swim for them. They still keep warm with their fur in that water.”
Allen estimates there are between 300 to 350 wolves on the Island, with the bulk of them north of Campbell River since fewer people live there.
“There are the ones that live on the coast, and we’re talking the west coast of Vancouver Island,” he said.
“There aren’t many wolves on the east coast of the Island, because that’s where 99 per cent of the population is. Very seldom do they come down into the populated areas on the east coast.”
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Vancouver Coastal sea wolves have debuted on the silver screen, too.
Allen and his late wolf, Tundra, were featured in the feature-length documentary Part Of The Pack, which was included in the 2023 Victoria Film Festival.
Meanwhile, a Netflix docuseries called Island of the Sea Wolves immerses viewers in wild Vancouver Island and showcases the local wolves. The series, narrated by Will Arnett, premiered on Oct. 11, and Gillette says she remembers crews filming nearby.
After watching the show, Gillette was a fan, especially because she learned more about the wolves that call the Island home. And now, she has her own wolf footage to enjoy.
“Beautiful to see,” she added.