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Parks Canada - Canada's Great Lakes aquatic wildlife

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Canada’s National Marine Conservation Areas System Plan

Canada’s Great Lakes Aquatic Wildlife

Illustration showing 7 aquatic species and an object which can be found beneath the waters of Canada's Great Lakes.
Great Lakes aquatic wildlife
© Parks Canada / Dorothea Kappler, 1995

Some 180 species of fish were native to the Great Lakes, with species composition varying from lake to lake due to the different characteristics of each. Many indigenous species have disappeared over the past 200 years, primarily as a result of human activities. Several species have been introduced, either intentionally (such as coho, chinook and Atlantic salmon) or accidentally (sea lamprey, goldfish, zebra mussel), often to the detriment of the native species.

The Great Lakes are used heavily by a few species of seabirds, notably herring and ring-billed gulls, which have adapted to the large-scale presence of humans. Use by waterfowl and shorebirds is generally low, particularly when compared to the other marine environments.

More than 36 million people live within the Great Lakes Basin, making these marine regions the most densely populated coastal areas in the country. A closed system with a slow outflow, the Great Lakes are especially vulnerable to pollution and are subject to major, potentially long-lasting damage.

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