SUBJECTS — Science-Technology, The Environment; U.S./1945-1991; Alaska;

SOCIAL-EMOTIONAL LEARNING — Caring for Animals; Courage;


AGE; 10+; MPAA Rating — PG;

Drama; 1983; 91 minutes; Color. Available from


One of the Best! This movie is on TWM’s list of the ten best movies to supplement classes in Science, High School Level.

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For English Language Arts classes, distribute TWM’s Film Study Worksheet. Teachers can modify the worksheet to fit the needs of each class. Ask students to fill out the worksheet as they watch the film or at the film’s end.

Click here for TWM’s lesson plans to introduce cinematic and theatrical technique.


This is a fictional account of a young scientist who spends a year observing a pack of wolves in Alaska. The film is based on the classic novel by Farley Mowat, first published in 1963. The novel was instrumental in changing attitudes toward wolves in the U.S., Canada, Russia (then the U.S.S.R.) and other countries. Previously, wolves had been considered dangerous animals, to be killed whenever possible. The novel helped people understand that wolves are valuable members of the forest ecology, endangered and deserving of protection.


Selected Awards: None.

Featured Actors: Charles Martin Smith; Brian Dennehy; Zachary Ittimangnaq, Samson Jorah.

Director: Carroll Ballard.


“Never Cry Wolf” will introduce children to the world of wolves.


MINIMAL. Alcohol use and abuse are shown.


Show your child the different types of wolves pictured in the Helpful Background section. Describe a little about their characteristics. Ask and help your child to answer the Quick Discussion Question.


There are an estimated minimum of 150,000 wolves in more than 37 countries. Most countries give legal protection to wolves and most wolf populations are stable or increasing.

Wolves survive in very different climates because they have two types of fur: a thick, downy undercoat for insulation and an overcoat of long, guard hairs to repel water and snow. The undercoat will be thicker in cold weather and lighter in warm weather. In very cold weather a wolf will keep warm by curling himself into a ball and tucking his muzzle in his tail.

Wolves communicate in a number of ways. They howl, growl, whimper, whine, bark, and squeal. Whimpering or whining is often a display of friendliness. Growls threaten or enforce pack hierarchy. Barks are used to signal alarm. Howling, one of the most beautiful and haunting forms of communication in nature, brings the pack together for a hunt, solidifies pack unity, signifies a celebration, or notifies other wolves of the extent of the pack’s territory. To hear wolf howls go to The Searching Wolf.

Like men before the advent of powerful bows and guns, wolves hunt in packs. Wolf packs are between two and twenty animals. Their main prey are large herbivores such as deer, moose, and caribou, but they will eat whatever is available. Wolves usually hunt at night, looking for the weakest animals in the herd. By controlling population growth, taking out the old, the sick and the genetically inferior, wolves help protect the herds that they hunt. They also prey on the young. Once the quarry is located, wolves surround the animal, biting it wherever they can, particularly the backside, sides, neck and head. If the animal makes a spirited fight or if it is fast and can outdistance the pack, the wolves will let it go and look for easier prey. Most hunts by wolf packs are not successful. But when they are successful, the wolves gorge, eating up to 20 pounds of meat and gristle per animal. They eat almost all of the carcass leaving only hair, horns and a few bones. After a successful hunt a wolf can go up to two weeks without eating.

The pack is a tightly knit, highly organized group which travels, hunts, protects territory, and raises pups together. It has been said that the wolf pack is one of the strongest social organizations found in nature. Packs consist of a dominant male and female, called the alpha male and the alpha female, together with their offspring or other wolves related to them. On occasion, an unrelated wolf will be permitted to become a pack member. Strict hierarchy maintains order within the pack. The alpha male leads. He and the alpha female are the only members of the pack who can mate. An aide to the alpha, called the beta wolf, often acts as the caretaker of the pups and the enforcer of the alpha’s decisions. The omega wolf is the lowest ranking member of the pack, subordinate to all others, and often forced to wait for food until the rest of the pack is finished eating. The rankings often go in pairs. The alpha wolf displays a very confident stride with tail raised and ears forward. Even a glare from the alpha wolf can be sufficient to cause another wolf in the pack to show obeisance such as tucking in its tail, lowering its body and crawling to the alpha wolf, etc.

Wolves mate for life, breeding between January and April. (The breeding period varies. In warmer climates it is earlier than in colder climates.) A litter averages 6 to 7 pups after a gestation period of about 63 days. Wolves find natural holes or a burrow, usually in a hillside, to raise their pups. After the pups are weaned, they are fed with meat regurgitated by their parents. Juvenile wolves remain with the pack until they reach sexual maturity (just short of two years). They then go out, search for a mate and establish their own territories.

There are three species of wolves. By far the most successful is the gray wolf or timber wolf. This is a powerful animal with robust limbs, large feet, a deep but narrow chest and a large head. The gray wolf is the largest canid living in the wild. A northern male may be about 6.5 feet long, including the bushy, 20-inch tail, and weigh 44 to 175 pounds. Females are about 20% smaller, and southern races of wolves tend to be smaller than northern ones. The fur of the gray wolf is usually gray but may be brown, reddish, black, or whitish. The underparts and legs are usually yellow-white.

Gray Wolf also called Timber Wolf

North American subspecies of the gray wolf are: the Arctic Wolf, the Eastern Timber Wolf, the Great Plains Wolf, the Rocky Mountain Wolf and the Mexican Wolf. There are 12 subspecies in Eurasia. The range for a pack of gray wolves is usually one hundred or several hundred square kilometer and is actively defended against neighboring packs.

Before the dominance of man, the range of the gray wolf extended from Arctic Canada south to Central Mexico, all of Europe, the Arabian Peninsula, parts of India, and China. This included every type of habitat in the Northern Hemisphere except tropical forests and arid deserts and was a larger natural distribution than any other mammal except human beings. In North America, the gray wolf is now restricted to Canada and Alaska, with small populations in Minnesota. Wolves have lost 95 percent of their historical range in the United States, 15 percent in Canada, 100 percent in Mexico and 25 percent in Europe and Asia. In 1995, wolves were reintroduced in wilderness areas of the northern Rocky Mountains. Large numbers of gray wolves still live in Russia and neighboring countries and in the Balkans, with much smaller populations isolated in parts of central and southern Europe and Scandinavia.

The red wolf is a tawny, reddish, or black canid whose range area included the south-central United States. It resembles a coyote-wolf hybrid and grows to a length of about 105 to 125 cm, excluding the tail, which is 33 to 43 cm long. It weighs about 45 to 80 lbs. The red wolf has a number of differences from the gray wolf. Its fur is shorter and has flecks of red. In addition, the red wolf’s ears are larger and its snout is narrower than its gray wolf cousin.

Red Wolf

Red wolves are known to hunt individually and in packs, eating white-tailed deer, raccoons and small mammals such as rabbits and rodents. They have also been known to prey on domestic pets and livestock but in very small numbers. Like gray wolves, red wolves live in the social structure of a pack, with a defended territory, an alpha breeding pair, and older offspring to assist with pup rearing. Red wolves are an endangered species; the total population in the late 20th century appeared to be fewer than 100. It is being saved from extinction by reintroduction projects in Tennessee and North Carolina. Adapted from Wolves of the World from the International Wolf Center.

Abyssinian Wolf

The Abyssinian wolf is found in only six or seven mountain ranges of Ethiopia. Its coat is a reddish-brown with white markings and it has a bushy tail. Their length from head to tail can measure up to 133 cm. Males can weigh up to 18 kg and females up to 16 kg. It hunts alone and its prey consists of small rodents, eggs, and other small animals. Its pack structure is the normal hierarchical structure for canids. See Canis Simensis from the University of Michigan.

Dogs were the first animals domesticated by humans. It is theorized that they worked cooperatively with humans to locate and announce the position of prey wounded by hunters’ primitive arrows. Fossils of domesticated dogs have been found at a German site dating back to 14,000 B.C.E. However, a recent study that looked at DNA animals such as wolves, coyotes, jackals, and dogs found that the divergence of dogs from wolves may have occurred as long as 135,000 years ago.

Wolves and dogs have many similarities such as their intensely social nature, their instinctive behaviors of play, dominance and submission, scent marking, and the females’ care for their young. Wolves are much more like dogs than they are like either coyotes or foxes in temperament, manners and physical structure. Wolves, dogs, and coyotes will mate willingly.

There are differences, however. A dog of the same weight as a wolf will have a head that is 20 percent smaller, has smaller teeth, more rounded and forward-looking eyes, and a more curved lower jaw. Wolves mature more slowly than dogs, reaching sexual maturity at the same time that they become socially mature, age two or three. Adapted from Encyclopedia Britannica, article on Dogs-Related Canids.


Before the book was published most people viewed wolves as dangerous animals that should be exterminated. The book made people realize that wolves were animals with a special place in the ecosystem.


1. See Discussion Questions for Use With any Film that is a Work of Fiction.


2. Why do wolves breed earlier in warmer climates than they do in colder climates?

Suggested Response:

Food is more plentiful in the spring/summer which arrives earlier in warmer climates.


3. Why are wolves larger in cold climates than in warm climates?


4. Why do you think that the Indians respected wolves so much?


5. What did you think of Tyler’s experiment to see if a large mammal could support itself on mice alone? Did this experiment conform to the scientific method? Was it a reasonable way to determine if the wolves were killing caribou?


6. Are wolves beneficial to the caribou herd? Justify your answer.


7. Why did Tyler want to get close to the wolves? Was this evidence of a psychological problem or of great strength?


8. How do the different groups of friends at your school resemble or differ from the social organization of a wolf pack?


9. How does the social organization of your family resemble or differ from a wolf pack?




1. Was it worth the life of a wolf for Mike to get new teeth so that he could get married?


2. Do you believe that wolves should be exterminated or protected?


3. Was Tyler courageous or acting like a fool to spend the winter isolated in the arctic near a pack of wolves?


Discussion Questions Relating to Ethical Issues will facilitate the use of this film to teach ethical principles and critical viewing. Additional questions are set out below.



(Treat others with respect; follow the Golden Rule; Be tolerant of differences; Use good manners, not bad language; Be considerate of the feelings of others; Don’t threaten, hit or hurt anyone; Deal peacefully with anger, insults, and disagreements)


1. What did Tyler come to respect about the wolves?



The websites described in the Links to the Internet Section and Encyclopedia Britannica.

This Learning Guide was last updated on December 17, 2009.

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