Marine Life in Gwaii Haanas
Diver in a kelp forest in Gwaii Haanas Park - Photo: Parks Canada, M. Heibert
Submitted by Parks Canada
Diving in to Gwaii Haanas Marine
Welcome back to the whales! Humpback whales’ spring migration routes pass through Gwaii Haanas on the way to summer feeding grounds further north. The first two humpback whales of the season were sighted by field staff on March 20 in Gwaii Haanas, near All Alone Stone.
Humpback whale in Gwaii Haanas - Photo: Parks Canada, Stef Olcen
Gwaii Haanas Marine offers vibrant experiences like: incredible colours: orange funnel sponges, rose anemones and red Irish lords; fanciful creatures: clown nudibranches, arctic cookie stars and candy striped shrimp; and ecological diversity: kelp forests, eelgrass meadows and intertidal zones.
Gwaii Haanas is also Canada’s newest National Marine Conservation Area Reserve (established 2010), and the first protected area to be managed from mountain top to sea floor – nearly 5000 km2 of land and ocean.
Wonders of the underwater world
Snorkeling in Burnaby Narrows - Photo: Parks Canada, N. Osborne
Under the waters of the Hecate Strait lie the contours of a former tundra-like plain, with meandering rivers, lakes and beach terraces -- a landscape drowned when sea levels rose after the last ice age. Off the west coast of Gwaii Haanas, the Queen Charlotte Shelf drops away abruptly to 2,500 metres, transitioning dramatically from the up thrust landmass of the islands, to shallow shelf, continental slope and deep ocean abyss. These "ecological edges" make for great biological richness.
Pacific salmon by the tens of thousands jostle their way up coastal streams to spawn, die and feed the forest each fall. Millions of herring return to spawn in the spring, turning protected shorelines and inlets a frothy milky blue. Decades old rockfish meander among hundreds-year old coral forests in the deep sea. Sablefish, a deep water dweller, spends its adult life at depths greater than 1,500 metres.
School of Herring in Gwaii Haanas - Photo: Parks Canada, M. Heibert
Kelp forests are among the most productive ecosystems on earth. They provide habitat for many species, from sea stars and marine worms, to fish and marine mammals.
The Intertidal secrets
Twice a day, the receding tide reveals a kaleidoscope of life – limpets, periwinkle snails, mussels, chitons, and more. Turn over a rock at low tide and see shore crabs shuffle for cover. Lift the shelter of seaweed and discover a juvenile octopus awaiting the flood tide. Witness a nudibranch hidden in the eelgrass meadows. Or enjoy the colourful array of bat stars in a sheltered zone.
Clown Nudibranch - Photo: Parks Canada, M. Heibert
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's full breach - Photo: Parks Canada, C.Bergman
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.
Dolphin - Photo Parks Canada, D. Gardiner
Interconnections between land and sea
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.
Black Oyster Catcher - Photo: Parks Canada, N. Osborne
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.
Puffins in Gwaii Haanas - Photo: Parks Canada, C. Bergman
The intertidal and underwater realms are yours to explore with a variety of tour operators – including a new opportunity to travel on a fully outfitted dive boat. Mothership kayak trips, sail boats, Zodiacs, guided or independent kayak excursions are also available to suit whatever type adventure you are looking for.
Visit www.pc.gc.ca/gwaiihaanas for more information.
Sealions - Photo: Parks Canada, Debbie Gardiner