Wildlife in Canada travel guide
Canada is a country that puts you in your place. You might kayak eye-to-eye with a pod of orcas through the mountainous coves of Vancouver Island. Or follow a First Nation guide to a hide where grizzly bears snatch two-metre Chinook salmon out of the water. Or perhaps you’ll join marine scientists on an expedition to Baffin Island, where belugas and narwhals are just the beginning of the weird world several degrees above the Arctic Circle.
The wildlife and landscape grapple for first billing. Bears use skyscraper cedars as scratching posts, while whales dive for krill between fractured fjords.
Canada wildlife holidays put you in the hands of tour guides who are your pass into wilderness often a good 1,000km off the tourist route. They’ll explain exactly why Chinook salmon are king and describe the unravelling fortunes of the Pacific orcas. Because for every ‘Free Willy’ bill and ban on harmful single-use plastics, there’s a plan to expand crude oil pipelines. The Canadian government might be an environmental enigma, but your travel guide will be the real deal.
Find out more in our guide to Canadian wildlife holidays.
Canada wildlife map & highlights
Few countries have such a vast range of landscapes, waterscapes and skyscapes at their disposal as Canada. And few fill them with such a vast range of animals so supremely adapted to their environment. Over 10 species of whales sieve the oceans for krill and fish in the summer, while extra large grizzlies plod through rainforests and mountains. Wolves have learned to fish in the salmon streams of British Columbia and bald eagles adopt city skyscrapers as lookouts. Things get more fantastical the further north you head – think ivory-white black bears, polar bears, narwhals and belugas.
1. Bald eagles
Americans might think that the bald eagle is their national bird, but in fact Canada quietly hordes the most bald eagles on the planet. Conservative estimates reckon there are 20,000 in British Columbia alone. The ultimate opportunists, there’s no missing their man-sized wingspan wheeling above skyscrapers, scavenging from fishing boats and waiting to pick off the weakest salmon.
Nothing beats the lightning flash of excitement – and healthy zing of fear – of spotting a grizzly bear crouching by the river, ready to knock a metre-long salmon out the water. British Columbia hogs 10,000 of the beasts, as well as the near mythical white spirit bear. Black bears are easier to spot; watch the clam-rich beaches of Vancouver Island or roadside berry bushes in the Rockies.
Moose & elk
3. Moose & elk
You can’t miss a moose. Stretching up to 2m from hoof to head, its hulking, solitary silhouette ambles through meadows and forests across Canada. If you’re lucky, you might spy a male with its equally huge set of antlers. Elk are around half the size, moving in herds of up to 200. You’ve also got a chance of spotting caribou in the Arctic and boreal mountains and forests.
The waters between Vancouver Island and the mainland are the hunting ground of orcas. They chase prey in pods, so where you see one you’ll likely see 10. Whale watching voyages are your best bet for seeing orcas in territory that ranges up the whole Inside Passage from Seattle to Alaska. But you could also see them from a ferry deck or while kayaking through Johnstone Strait.
5. Polar Bears
Once an icon of the Arctic and now the poster child for the ravages of climate change, polar bears pad the tundra and shrinking ice packs of northern Canada. Roll into the wilderness on tundra buggies or join an expedition ship to Baffin Island. Here, polar bears will be busy stalking seals, snoozing and sparring. Keep an eye on the skies, too; this is Northern Lights terrain.
Bowhead whales are whittled for the Canadian Arctic. Smaller than but as heavy as a blue whale, these fortified beasts can headbutt their way through thick sea ice. You can see them around Baffin Island, where only expedition ships venture. Humpback and grey whales traverse the warmer waters further south. You could see them breaching from Pacific Rim National Park on Vancouver Island.
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