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.