Great Canadian Parks / British Columbia

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The Parks / British Columbia / Gwaii Haanas National Park



 

The Queen Charlotte Islands sit on the western edge of the North American continental plate. The islands were formed during a period of tectonic movement 200 million years ago. As the Pacific plate slid under the North American plate it buckled the western edge of the continent into massive mountain ranges. The San Cristoval Mountains form the backbone of the Queen Charlotte Islands with peaks over 1100 metres high.

 

The Queen Charlotte Fault, which separates the Pacific and continental plates, runs just off shore and is one of the most active earthquake zones in North America. The Pacific Ocean drops to depths of 2000 m within 2 km from these shores. The rugged West Coast receives the full force of the Pacific in wind and wave. The eastern coast is relatively sheltered and dotted with islands. Collectively, the islands contain several life zones ranging from a coastal temperate rainforest of cedar and giant Sitka spruce, to a mountain zone of hemlock and alpine tundra.

 

About 750,000 seabirds breed in Gwaii Haanas; millions more stop here at some point during spring and fall migrations. It is the only confirmed nesting site in Canada for horned puffins. There are more eagle nests per kilometre of shoreline than anywhere else in Canada and the highest breeding density of Peregrine falcons in the world. The abundant food supply that attracts the birds is also a lure for marine mammals. Grey whales are migratory visitors during spring and summer. Ten other cetacean species are also inhabitants. Sightings of humpbacks and minkes are common in Juan Perez Sound. Scientists have recently discovered a distinct sub-species of killer whale they call ‘offshore’, in addition to the resident and transient populations. The largest breeding colony of Steller sea lions on the west coasts surrounds Cape St. James, at the southern tip of Gwaii Haanas.

 

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