Many of the species in Gwaii Haanas and the Haida Gwaii archipelago are endemic (unique) and are found nowhere else in the world.

In fact, there are more unique sub-species on Haida Gwaii than in any other equal-sized area in Canada, and these islands are often referred to as “the Canadian Galapagos.” Distinctive sub-species of Saw-whet Owl, Hairy Woodpecker, Steller’s Jay and Peale’s Peregrine Falcon are found.

Eleven species of mammals are native to Gwaii Haanas: Black Bear, Pine Marten, River Otter, Haida Ermine, Dusky Shrew, Silver-haired Bat, California Myotis, Keen’s Myotis, Little brown Bat and Deer Mouse. The eleventh species, the Dawson Caribou, became extinct in 1908.

Gwaii Haanas is internationally recognized for its seabird populations. Approximately 1.5 million seabirds from 12 species nest on the islands, including the Ancient Murrelet, a species-at-risk, for which Haida Gwaii is the only nesting location in Canada. Cassin’s Auklets and Rhinocerus Auklets also nest in globally-significant populations. Haida Gwaii is known for its Storm Petrels and Pigeon Guillemots.

The marine area teems with life. Twenty-three species of marine mammals inhabit the surrounding waters, including whales, dolphins and the largest colony of Steller’s sea lions on Canada’s west coast. The sea otter was once plentiful but was hunted to extinction here.

There are more than 6,800 species of flora and fauna on the archipelago of Haida Gwaii.

Distinct fauna

Black bear eating crab
Haida Gwaii black bear in the intertidal zone

Islands are special places for plants and animals. The distinct Haida Gwaii fauna have evolved over thousands of years. Six of the ten native land mammals on the islands are subspecies found nowhere else on earth. This includes the dusky shrew, ermine and pine marten.

The Haida Gwaii black bear (Ursus americanus carlottae) is also unique and is the only species of bear found on the archipelago today.

The species has thrived on a rich diet of salmon and hard-shelled intertidal creatures for so long that the bears have developed larger jaws and teeth than their mainland counterparts.

Birds

These islands are a birdwatcher’s paradise. An estimated 1.5 million seabirds nest along some 4,700 km of shoreline of Haida Gwaii. Approximately half of these seabirds can be found in Gwaii Haanas.

Rhinoceros auklets, ancient murrelets, tufted puffins, horned puffins, Cassin's auklets, pigeon guillemots, Leach's storm petrel and fork-tailed storm petrels are among those most frequently spotted on the water.

Common murres, black oystercatchers and pelagic cormorants, bald eagles and Peale's peregrine falcons also nest along the coastline.

Because the islands are situated along the Pacific flyway, dozens of species of migrating birds stop here in spring and fall. The shorelines and forests provide critical food, shelter and breeding habitat for a great diversity of seabirds.

Marine mammals

Twenty species of whales and dolphins have been recorded in these waters. Grey and humpback whales’ spring migration routes pass through Haida Gwaii on the way to summer feeding grounds further north.

Orca and Minke whales are also seen regularly in Gwaii Haanas, along with dolphins, porpoises, harbour seals and Steller sea lions. Sei, fin, and other whale species are occasionally sighted.