The novel takes place in 1893 in the Pacific Ocean. Humphrey Van Weyden, a resident of San Francisco, a well-known literary critic, travels by ferry across the Gulf of Golden Gate to visit his friend and on the way gets into a shipwreck. From the water, he is picked up by the captain of the commercial schooner "Ghost", who is called Wolf Larsen by everyone on the board. Larsen on a small schooner with a team of 22 people goes to harvest fur seals skins to the north of the Pacific Ocean and takes Van-Weiden with him, despite his desperate protests.
From the team, Van Weyden learns that Wolf Larsen is famous in the professional environment for reckless courage, but even more terrible cruelty, because of which he even has problems with recruiting the team; he even have done a few murders. Order on the ship is held entirely on the extraordinary physical strength and authority of Wolf Larsen. Anybody who is accused for any misconduct is severely punished by the captain. Despite its terrible strength, Wolf Larsen has attacks of severe headache.
One night, Van Weyden sees Wolf Larsen climbing across the ship, fully wet and with a bloody head. Together with poorly understanding what is happening Van Weyden, Wolf Larsen descends into the cockpit and tries to determine which of the sailors sleeps, and who pretends to be asleep. At this moment, the sailors, led by Leach, attack Wolf Larsen and try to kill him, but the lack of weapons, darkness and multiplicity lead to the fact that Wolf Larsen, using his extraordinary physical strength, is selected on the ladder.
After the failed mutiny, the captain's treatment of the team becomes even more cruel, especially of Leach and Johnson. Everybody, including Johnson and Leach, are sure that Wolf Larsen will kill them. Wolf Larsen himself says the same, but still does not kill Leach, in spite of the sailor's new attempts on the life of the captain. At the same time, the captain gains intensified attacks of headache, lasting for several days now.Johnson and Leach manage to escape on one of the boats. In the course of the pursuit of fugitives, the Ghost crew recruits another company of victims, including a young woman, the poetess Maud Brewster. From the first glance, Humphrey is attracted to Maud.
Wolf Larsen has a brother, nicknamed the Death Larsen, captain of the fishing boat "Macedonia", as they say, besides fishing seals, engaged in the transport of weapons and opium, slave trade and piracy. The brothers hate each other. Once Wolf Larsen meets Death Larsen and after a sea battle on the boats seizes several members of his brother's crew, forcing them to hunt seals along with their team.
The wolf is also attracted to Maud, eventually he tries to rape her, but abandons his attempt because of a severe headache. Van Weyden, who was present during this situation, firstly tossing at Larsen with a sword because of indignation and arousing love for Maud. That time he at the first time saw Wolf Larsen truly frightened. Immediately after this incident, Van Weyden and Maude decide to flee the Ghost, while Wolf Larsen lies in his cabin with another bout. After taking a boat with a small supply of food, they sail to Japan, and a few weeks later wander around the ocean and land on a small island, which Maud and Humphrey called Endeavor Island. They can not leave the island and are preparing for a long winter.
After a while, the island is beaten by a broken schooner. This is the "Ghost", with Wolf Larsen on board. He lost his sight. It turns out that Death Larsen two days after the escape of Van Weyden and Maud took the "Ghost" to board and bribed the hunters, leaving his brother on his schooner alone. Cook finally took revenge on Wolf Larsen, mopping up the mast.
The crippled "Ghost" with the broken masts drifted in the ocean, until it was nailed to the Endeavor Island. By the will of destiny, on this island, blinded by a brain tumor, Captain Larsen discovers a rich rookery of seals, which he sought all his life.
Maud and Humphrey at the cost of incredible efforts repair the "Ghost" and lead him to the open sea. Larsen, who is consistently loosing after seeing all the senses, is paralyzed and dies. At the moment when Maud and Humphrey finally discover a salvage ship in the ocean, they confess in love to each other.