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Mammals in the Queen Charlotte Islands

Although mammals are not as common as birds you can still see them every day you are in Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve. In the sea you will find whales, dolphin, porpoise, sea lions, and seals. On land some commonly seen mammals are bear, deer, river otter, and raccoon.

The most commonly observed whales are Humpback Whale and Gray Whale. The Gray Whales can be found in shallow muddy bays where they feed by filtering the mud through their baleen during their spring migration to the Bering Sea. Humpback Whales are found in deeper water and are often seen alone or in small groups. On our last trip we found a group of at least 50 Humpbacks feeding along with thousands of sooty shearwater. The whale pictured to the left came right up to the boat and spent several minutes right next to us. It is also possible to see Minke Whale and Orca. Orca are unmistakeable but Minke Whale can be more difficult to identify. Minke Whale look similar to Humpback but are much smaller and do not have the large pectoral fins.

Other common marine mammals are Harbor Seals, Pacific White-sided Dolphin, and Dall's and Harbor Porpoise. On both of my trips we encountered over 100 Pacific White-sided Dolphin moving together in what seemed like an exuberant celebration of life. It was easy to identify their field marks because they were leaping out of the water so often. It is hard to imagine they were jumping out of the water and tumbling through the air for any reason other than the fun of it. Some of these playful creatures came right up to the boat to bow ride giving everyone a spectacular view. With a top speed of 25 miles per hour they were gone as quickly as they had come but they left us all smiling.

A large population of Steller Sea Lions feeds on the abundant fish in the area and can be found on their favorite haul out rocks where large males defend their harem of females. The males are much larger than the females and can weigh over 2000 pounds and reach up to 11 feet in length.

You can also see Black Bear foraging on intertidal life at low tide. The Queen Charlotte Black Bear subspecies is among the largest in North America with larger jaws and teeth believed to help them feed on hard-shelled invertebrates in the intertidal zone. Bears are usually found where their food is plentiful in valleys and creeks and along the shore at low tide. In addition to feeding in the intertidal zone they also eat plants and berries and many other types of food. They depend heavily on salmon when the fish return to their rivers to spawn in the late summer.

While searching for bears be sure to keep an eye out for River Otter which can also be found along the shore in similar habitat. These playful creatures are fun to watch if you can find them.

One of the most commonly observed terrestrial mammals is the Sitka Blacktail Deer. This is the same species that is found on the mainland but it is not native to these islands. It was introduced in 1880's and has since drastically increased in numbers. One of their favorite places to feed in Gwaii Haanas National Park is in the abandoned Haida village sites. In these places they can find grass which is not available in the forest. The deer can be quite tame and if you sit calmly and watch they may go about their daily activities as though you were not there.

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