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Atlantic Wolffish (Anarhichas Lupus)

Species Information

Name and Classification

The wolffishes, family Anarhichadidae, are large blenny-like marine fishes which inhabit moderately deep waters of the North Atlantic and North Pacific oceans.  They are named for the characteristic large, conical, canine-like teeth employed in consuming the benthic crustaceans and invertebrates which are their chief food source.  Three species of wolffish occur in the Canadian Atlantic areas, and two of these, the spotted wolffish (Anarhichas minor Olafsen, 1774) and the Atlantic wolffish (Anarhichas lupus Linnaeus 1758), are of some commercial importance.  The latter is the subject of this report.



The Atlantic wolffish is an elongate, laterally compressed fish with a heavy head, blunt snout and rounded profile (Figure 1).  It can reach a length of 150 cm and a weight of almost 20 kg.  In common with all wolffish, it has distinctive and prominent large canine-like teeth in the front of the jaws and flattened, grinding teeth behind.  There are no pelvic fins.  Atlantic wolffish vary in colour, depending on their surroundings, from slaty blue to dull olive green to purplish brown, and there are dark transverse bars on the body (Whitehead et al., 1986; Scott and Scott, 1988).


Figure 1.  The Atlantic wolffish, Anarhichas lupus Linnaeus 1758.  From Scott and Scott, 1988, p. 432.

Figure 1.  The Atlantic wolffish, Anarhichas lupus Linnaeus 1758.  From Scott and Scott, 1988, p. 432.

The Atlantic wolffish can be distinguished from the other two wolffishes of the region by the nine to thirteen irregular and broken dark transverse bars on its body, some of which extend onto the dorsal fin.  As well, its musculature is firm, not jelly-like as in the northern wolffish (Anarhichas denticulatus Krøyer, 1844), and the grinding teeth on the vomer extend to the rear of the mouth behind the rows of palatine teeth (Barsukov in Whitehead et al., 1986).