Haida Gwaii is an archipelago of more than 200 islands off Canada’s northern Pacific coast. Haida Gwaii consists of two main islands, Graham Island (Kiis Gwaay) in the north and Moresby Island in the south, along with many smaller islands. The islands are separated from the mainland to the east by the shallow Hecate Strait. Nicknamed “Canada’s Galapagos,” these islands support some of North America’s most biodiverse ecosystems and wildlife. The islands have a rich and complex ecological landscape, with species that can’t be found anywhere else on Earth.

Haida Gwaii: Islands at the Edge of the World

Totem poles made by Indigenous inhabitants in Canada on the beautiful SGang Gwaay Village

SGang Gwaay Village © Eddy Savage

With a rich human history that dates back 13,000 years, the original inhabitants of these lands, the Haida Nation, have used Traditional Ecological Knowledge and other practices to maintain thoughtful and spiritual stewardship of the land and water. In 1993, the Council of the Haida Nation and the Government of Canada agreed to make the South Moresby area, which includes the southernmost part of Moresby Island and several adjoining islands and islets, federally protected as the Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve and Haida Heritage Site.

In 2010, the adjacent marine waters received protection with the establishment of the Gwaii Haanas National Marine Conservation Area Reserve. The Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve, Haida Heritage Site and the Gwaii Haanas National Marine Conservation Area Reserve, collectively referred to as Gwaii Haanas, represent 15% of the Haida Gwaii islands. Gwaii Haanas is internationally recognized for the ecological and cultural protection of more than 500 identified Haida heritage sites. For example, the village of Nang Sdins Llnagaay (Ninstins) on SGang Gwaay (Anthony Island) is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The remaining monumental poles and architecture honor the living culture passed down by Haida ancestors.

Aquatic Life 

A cruise or kayak through Gwaii Haanas will reveal a marine ecosystem teeming with life. Whale-watching opportunities are abundant, as gray and humpback whales pass through Haida Gwaii yearly on their spring migration toward their summer feeding grounds further north.

Sail boat travels through the Canadian Galapagos

© Eddy Savage

You might be lucky enough to catch a glimpse of dolphins as they ride bow waves or hear the healthy populations of sea lions as they bark from rocky outposts.

Sea lions swimming and lounging in the sun on a rocky outcrop in Canada

© Eddy Savage

Twenty species of marine mammals have been recorded in Gwaii Haanas. This includes the migrating gray, humpback, sei, fin, minke and blue whales, harbor porpoises, Dall’s porpoises and Pacific white-sided dolphins. Orcas are seen regularly and hunt as apex predators.

Breaching humpback whale

Breaching humpback whale © Eddy Savage

Sea otters, once abundant in this area, are now extinct due to overhunting. The plentiful waters surrounding Gwaii Haanas host the largest colony of Steller’s sea lions on Canada’s west coast, as well as northern fur seals. Both harbor seals and sea lions feed on the healthy populations of squid and herring. 

Sea lions swimming and lounging in the sun on a rocky outcrop in Canada

© Eddy Savage

The magic doesn’t stop at the surface. This marine realm showcases an extraordinary diversity of ecological features, habitats and creatures, mainly due to its isolation and the fact that many areas escaped glaciation. Haida Gwaii is unique in that it has many vibrant intertidal zones that host a kaleidoscope of life. Twice a day, the receding tide reveals limpets, periwinkle snails, mussels, chitons and more. The shorelines have risen and fallen throughout the island’s geological history. Many islands now above sea level were once below it and vice versa. 

Colorful intertidal zone in Canada

© Eddy Savage

Under the waters of the Hecate Strait lies a former tundra-like landscape shaped by rivers, lakes and beach terraces that were submerged after sea levels rose following the last Ice Age. Off the west coast of Gwaii Haanas is the Queen Charlotte Basin, a structural basin beneath the western Canadian continental shelf.

An adorable harbor seal in Southern California's Channel Islands swims out of the kelp and briefly stares into my camera for a picture.

This shelf drops eight thousand feet to a continental slope and deep ocean abyss. These “ecological edges” are ideal for biological richness and have supported complex and interdependent colonies of hundreds-year-old coral forests, anemones, snails, crabs and decades-old rockfish. Kelp forests provide a habitat for many of these species, including sea stars and marine worms.

A Birders Paradise

The shorelines and forests of Haida Gwaii provide critical food, shelter and breeding habitat for well over 200 bird species. The islands are situated along the Pacific flyway, and dozens of species of migrating birds stop here in spring and fall.

Bird flies over sparkling waters in Canada

© Eddy Savage

An estimated 1.5 million seabirds call Haida Gwaii home, and it has become internationally recognized for its seabird populations. Approximately half of these seabirds can be found in Gwaii Haanas.

Eagle flying at coast, Skeena-Queen Charlotte Regional District, Haida Gwaii, Graham Island, British Columbia, Canada

Twelve species of seabirds nest on the islands, including the at-risk ancient murrelet, for which Haida Gwaii is the only nesting location in Canada. Gwaii Haanas harbors about 750,000 nesting seabirds from May to August, including sandpipers, geese, murrelets, petrels, cormorants, and tufted and horned puffins, as well as relatively high concentrations of bald eagles and peregrine falcons. Endemic species include pine grosbeak, sooty song sparrow, northern saw-whet owl, Queen Charlotte hairy woodpecker and Steller’s jay subspecies.

Rhinocerous Auklet with Sand Lance

Rhinocerous auklet with sand lance. © Eddy Savage


Ten land mammals are native to the islands, and six of those are subspecies that are found nowhere else on Earth. This includes the black bear, pine marten, river otter, Haida ermine, dusky shrew, silver-haired bat, California myotis, keen’s myotis, little brown bat and deer mouse. The eleventh species, the Dawson caribou, became extinct in 1908.

Pine marten with wet fur climbing on mossy trees in Canada

Pine marten

The Haida Gwaii black bear is the only bear found on the archipelago today. These bears have thrived on a rich diet of salmon and hard-shelled intertidal creatures for so long that they have developed larger jaws and teeth than their mainland counterparts. The Haida Gwaii black bear is the largest in North America. 

Black Bear foraging at low tide near Tofino, Vancouver Island, B

There are more than 6,800 flora and fauna species in the Haida Gwaii archipelago. The islands are rich with temperate rain forests of hemlock, spruce and cedar. The alpine meadows and rocky marine habitats of Gwaii Haanas support healthy fungal, plant and animal life. Teeming with life, Haida Gwaii is the destination for explorers looking for a wildlife expedition of a lifetime. Experience wildlife from the shore, the skies and the water.

Tow (Taaw) Hill, a beautiful ancient volcanic plug remnant in Na

Tow (Taaw) Hill, an ancient volcanic remnant.