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Scientific Classification

Wolffish is the common name for the species that belong to the taxonomic family Anarhichadidae. The Grey Wolffish or Atlantic Wolffish is by far the most common of them.[1] The wolffish is often sold on the market as ocean catfish or as lobo which is spanish for wolffish. It sells better when labeled as catfish. They say only a wolffish could love another wolffish; and if you ever saw one you would agree. This fish is somewhat frightening to look at and it has lots of teeth.[2] It crushes its prey such as sea urchins, crabs and clams with its sharp teeth and powerful jaws. Fishermen finding it among their catch need to take special care. Their teeth and powerful jaws can penetrate boots to inflict a very nasty wound.[3] The wolffish can be found from Greenland to southern New England. They are non migratory and live on the ocean bottem in depths of 50 to 350 feet. They can grow between 3 and 5 feet and can live up to 22 years.


The remains of a wolffish

The wolffish suggests a huge blenny (fishes belonging to the families Blenniidae and Nototheniidae. They are characterized by elongated, tapering bodies and a contiuouus long dorsal fin.) In its general make-up, except that its dorsal fin spines are flexible at their tips instead of stiff; that it has no ventral fins; and that its mouth is armed with a set of teeth more formidable than those of any other Gulf of Maine fishes, except for its relative. There is a row of about 6 very large, stout, conical canine tusks with a cluster of 5 or 6 smaller canines behind them in the upper jaw; and the roof of the mouth back of the latter is armed with three series of crushing teeth. The central series of these consists of a double row of about 4 pairs of large rounded molars that are united into a solid plate; each of the outer series consists of two alternating rows of blunt conical teeth. They are dull colored and can vary widely in tint. Along its sides are 9-13 dark brownish irregular vertical bands.[4] These fish can grow to 5 feet in length, with the average size closer to 3 feet.


Wolffish must inhabit water deeper than 30 m and do not enter shallow inshore waters until sexually mature. At the age of 8 too 10 years old, they become sexually mature. Fertilization is internal and copulation takes 3 to 6 hours with the female releasing her eggs 7 to 15 hours after mating.[5] The eggs, 5.5 to 6 mm. in diameter (among the largest fish eggs known), yellowish, opaque, and with an oil globule of 1.75 mm., are laid on the bottom in shoal water where they stick together in large loose clumps among weeds and stones. The fish have been described as making an annual shoreward journey for spawning purposes, but there is little evidence of this. The precise duration of incubation is yet to be learned; probably it is long, as it is for most of the fishes that lay their eggs on the bottom.[6]


Treasures of the BC Coastal Waters Exhibit, Vancouver Aquarium

The Atlantic Wolffish is a solitary species, commonly inhabiting deep water along slopes, and not generally given to long migrations. Wolffish may live in between the sea rocks. Wolffish may live alone for much of the time. Spring inshore migrations in preparation for summer spawning have been reported in a variety of areas. In the Barents Sea, wolffish have been found close to shore at depths of 1-2 m in early spring and concentrated in deeper water during summer. Once inshore, wolffish have been observed at depths of 5-15 m, where they can be found in holes under large boulders, swimming in open water, or resting on the bottom.[7]


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