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What is a Wolffish?

By Laura Evans
Updated May 21, 2024
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The Atlantic wolffish, or Anarhichas lupus, is also called the Atlantic catfish, ocean catfish, sea cat, and wolf eel. This marine fish has a tail that resembles an eel's and teeth that are built for chomping. Sea cats are considered to be a "species of concern" by the United States National Marine Fisheries Service due to over-fishing and habitat destruction.

Sea cats inhabit both sides of the Atlantic Ocean. Atlantic wolffish live at depths between 250 and 400 feet (about 76 to 122 meters) below the surface of the ocean. These fish prefer to inhabit the floor of the ocean in nooks or caves and are sedentary, or rarely move. In addition to depth, wolf eels prefer cold waters, usually between of 34-36 degrees Fahrenheit (1 to 2 degrees C), although Atlantic catfish may be able to tolerate temperatures as low as 30 degrees Fahrenheit (-1 degree C), or below freezing temperatures. In fact, the Atlantic wolffish have developed a natural "anti-freeze" to help the fish live in near-freezing or freezing temperatures.

Atlantic wolfish can weigh up to about 40 pounds (18 kg). Lengths of this fish can reach almost 5 feet long (150 cm). The fearsome, crooked teeth of the sea cat are used to crush food such as crabs, sea urchins, and clams. These fish are actually docile unless threatened.

The reproduction habits of the wolffish are different that many other types of marine fish. Instead of females dispersing the eggs in water for males to fertilize, the eggs are fertilized inside of the female. The female then lays the eggs in a nest on the floor of the ocean. The male fish protects the eggs in the nest and young fish for four to nine months.

Sea cats are a good source of nutrition. About 5 ounces (153 g) of raw Atlantic wolffish has 147 calories and a total of 4 grams of fat. Of this fat, 1 gram is saturated. The sea cat will have 70 mg of cholesterol, 130 grams of sodium and no carbohydrates. This serving portion has 27 grams of protein as well and also fulfills 11 percent of daily requirements for vitamin A, 52 percent of daily requirements for vitamin B12 and 31 percent of daily requirements of B6 based on a 2,000 calorie per day diet.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is a wolffish and where can it be found?

A wolffish, also known as the Atlantic wolffish, is a marine fish known for its distinctive appearance, including elongated bodies and strong, canine-like teeth. They inhabit the cold waters of the North Atlantic Ocean, from the coast of the United States to Greenland and across to Europe. They prefer rocky underwater terrains where they can find shelter and prey.

What do wolffish eat?

Wolffish are carnivorous creatures with a diet primarily consisting of hard-shelled invertebrates like sea urchins, clams, and crabs. Their powerful jaws and strong teeth are perfectly adapted for crushing the shells of these animals. Occasionally, they may also feed on smaller fish if the opportunity arises.

Are wolffish dangerous to humans?

Wolffish are not typically dangerous to humans. They are known to be quite reclusive and tend to avoid human interaction. While their appearance might be intimidating due to their large teeth, there are no known instances of wolffish attacks on humans. They are more curious than aggressive when encountered by divers.

How do wolffish reproduce?

Wolffish reproduce by external fertilization. During the breeding season, females lay a large number of eggs on the ocean floor, which the males then fertilize. Interestingly, wolffish exhibit parental care, with the males guarding the eggs until they hatch to protect them from predators, a behavior not commonly observed in fish.

What is the conservation status of wolffish?

According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), some species of wolffish, such as the Atlantic wolffish, are considered 'Near Threatened.' Their populations are facing threats from overfishing, bycatch, and habitat destruction. Conservation efforts are in place to manage fishing practices and protect their natural habitats.

How does the wolffish adapt to its cold environment?

The wolffish has several adaptations to survive in cold waters. One notable adaptation is the presence of natural antifreeze compounds in their blood, which prevent ice crystals from forming and damaging their cells. Additionally, their large size and slow metabolism are suited to the frigid temperatures of their deep-sea habitats.

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