Wildlife photographers capture images of rare Vancouver Island coastal wolves

Rare Vancouver Island coastal wolves were spotted by a pair of wildlife photographers in May, 2019: (Liron Gertsman)

A pair of wildlife photographers have captured photos of rare coastal wolves on the West Coast of Vancouver Island.

The photographers, Liron Gerstman and Ian Hardland, snapped the photographs back in May while out on an excursion looking for all forms of island wildlife. 

The encounter with the elusive species of wolf was exciting for the photographers as the apex predators are a unique type of animal only found in select areas across the globe. Unlike regular interior wolves, which tend to eat land-based mammals, coastal wolves have adapted to eat and forage for seafood.

"Coastal wolves are an extremely unique type of wolf because basically they've evolved to live off of the sea," said Gerstman, a second-year biology student at UBC and wildlife photographer. "While wolves in most interior sections of the world are feeding on mostly mammals on the land, wolves like in coastal British Columbia are eating food from the sea."

"They eat anything that washes up, like sea lion carcasses, and they'll forage on intertidal zones for things like mussels." 

Gerstman says the pair first spotted a sea lion carcass on a Vancouver Island beach when moments later a wolf came trotting down a grassy section of the shore nearby. 

"It was a very healthy-looking, beautiful wolf and it actually had some unique behaviour," said Gerstman. 

The wildlife photographers watched as the coastal wolf pounced on a small rodent and then flung it into the air. 

"It was tossing it eight feet in the air again and again, sort of like playtime," said Gerstman. 

The photographer hopes that his photographs help show people that all animals have their own lives and personalities, and that they're more than just statistics, especially when it comes to matters of conservation. 

"Globally, there's always things like trapping and habitat loss [that threaten animals] but here in B.C., wolves are currently being targeted through a government sponsored program in order to save caribou," said Gerstman.

"Large amounts of wolves are set to be culled to save caribou that are on the brink of extinction. But it's not the wolves, it's the loss of habitat and human expansion that has caused caribou to go extinct," said Gerstman. 

"So culling the wolves is not what I see, and not what many environmentalists see, as the solution. It's about preserving habitat." 

The wildlife photographer and biology student adds that another threat that wolves face is contact with human beings. Once wolves, like bears, become habituated to urban environments, conservation officers may be forced to relocate or euthanize them if they pose a danger to human beings. 

According to Parks Canada, these types of encounters between humans and wolves are on the rise.

Gerstman recommends not approaching wildlife and to be mindful of where food and waste is placed while camping or in rural areas. 

Meanwhile, coastal wolves are so elusive that Parks Canada staff are asking Vancouver Island residents to help scoop up and record the animal's poop. The collected animal waste will help researchers understand the wolves' movements, behavior, eating habits and more. 

"We are trying to get people out there and have them participate in a citizen science project," said Wild About Wolves program manager Todd Windle back in October. 

Further information and volunteer applications on the Wild About Wolves program can be found online here

Gerstman's photographs, which highlight wildlife in B.C. and beyond, can be found online here. Similarly, Ian Hardland's nature photography can be found online here.

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