Two wildlife photographers have captured images of a rare coastal wolf on the west coast of Vancouver Island during a wildlife photography trip. Ian Garland and Liron Gertsman, captured images of it roaming sandy beaches along the shoreline and pouncing on a small rodent. The photos showcase the behaviour and personality of a rarely seen animal with a unique ocean-side lifestyle.
Coastal wolves are strongly connected to the ocean. Unlike their counterparts found in the interior of British Columbia that prey primarily on mammals, coastal wolves “specialize in foraging on seafood,” says Gertsman, a wildlife photographer and student studying biology at the University of British Columbia.
The wolves scavenge on marine animal carcasses that wash up on shore and search through the intertidal zone for mussels and other seafood goodies to eat.
“As a wildlife photographer, we have a responsibility to the environment and the animals that we photograph,” says Gertsman. He explains that photographers need to be respectful, and always follow the rules and regulations put in place to protect wildlife. Wolves need their space, so he recommends keeping at least 100 metres away from the animals.
Photographers can close the distance to their subject through the use of large telephoto lenses. “The whole point of my photography is to share these conservation stories, and spread awareness about issues and educate about these incredible animals,” says Gertsman.
The two spotted the coastal wolf near a washed-up sea lion carcass. “It really was a special encounter,” says Gertsman. They observed the wolf pounce in the beach grass and catch a small rodent. The wolf tossed its catch up about ten feet in the air and caught it, an activity it repeated over and over again. “It seemed like it was actually playing.”
Despite its elusive nature, the coastal wolf still faces conservation threats from human activity.
“Here in British Columbia, the biggest threat that they’re currently facing is that the government has put forward a program to cull a huge number of wolves in the interior of British Columbia in a desperate attempt to try to save endangered caribou,” says Gertsman. “But the problem is that it’s not the wolves that have caused these caribou to decline so drastically, it’s the loss of habitat.”
Researchers studying the genetic differentiation of coastal wolves recommended they be given special conservation status given their unique ecological, morphological, behavioural and genetic characteristics.
Gertsman points to the expansion of human cities and logging as major threats to caribou habitat. A wolf cull is not a solution, he argues, when there is no caribou habitat left. Wolves are also directly threatened by interactions with people. “Like bears, wolves can get habituated to people,” says Gertsman.
While wolves are naturally wary of humans, when people leave food unattended at campsites, approach wolves, and directly feed the animals, they become bolder. As they spend more time around people and begin to associate them with food, there is an increased chance the wolves could be hit by car or start behaving aggressively.
Gertsman describes the coastline where he and Harland encountered the wolf as beautiful, with “open ocean crashing on the shore, backed by beautiful forests.” He adds that the area contains some of the largest and oldest stands of old-growth forest in the world.
After his encounter with the coastal wolf, he remarks that the species is very “sentient and intelligent”. “We probably have a lot more in common with them than we’d ever think,” he says.
You can view Liron Gertman’s wildlife photography by visiting his website here.