Canada’s Species At Risk Act came into law in 2002, aimed at preserving wildlife, including mammals, reptiles, birds, fish, and plants. “Species at risk” are classified in one of four categories: extirpated (no longer found in a particular region but not necessarily globally extinct), endangered, threatened, and of special concern. According to Environment Canada, there are 345 species at risk of disappearing in Canada, and the number is only growing. Though efforts are being made to keep them from vanishing, there’s no guarantee. Here are some of the most-threatened creatures to see—before it’s too late.
Peary caribou, the smallest of caribou species, is considered endangered. Male and female peary caribou have antlers, though female caribou sometimes have a single antler or none at all. Found in the Arctic tundra of the Northwest Territories and Nunavut, their fur is the thickest and lightest-coloured of the caribou species, but heavy snowfall and freezing rain limit their ability to forage. In addition to being hunted by humans, they are also preyed on by bears, wolves, coyotes, cougars, and lynx.
Leatherback sea turtle
Both the Atlantic and Pacific populations of the leatherback sea turtle—the largest living turtle—are considered endangered. Once believed to be facing imminent extinction, the Pacific population is now considered critically endangered, with some sightings on the West Coast between July and September. The Atlantic population, estimated at about 15,000 females, is cautiously considered stable, and can be seen on the East Coast between June and October.
The spotted turtle, a small species that lives across Eastern North America, has been shrinking in population in Canada for the past few decades. More than 100 populations of the turtle were noted in Ontario 40 years ago, primarily around Georgian Bay and Lake Erie, but 36 of those populations are now considered extirpated. The fresh-water turtle is known for orange-yellow spots on its black carapace. It is threatened by traffic, pollution, destruction of its habitat, illegal trade, and predators, such as the raccoon.
The Northeast Pacific southern resident population of killer whales is considered endangered, with just 78 recorded in 2001. Killer whales tend to concentrate in colder regions but have been observed in all of the world’s oceans. Pollution and loss of prey for the whales to hunt are their biggest threats.
Greater sage grouse
One subspecies of the greater sage grouse (centrocercus urophasianus phaios) has been extirpated from the British Columbia's Okanagan Valley but a different subspecies (centrocercus urophasianus urophasianus) can still be found in Alberta and Saskatchewan. The Prairie population of the chicken-like bird was estimated at 450 in 2006—a 42 percent decrease from the estimated population of 777 in the same region just a decade earlier. Loss of habitat, in part due to the oil and gas industry, and the West Nile virus are major threats to this bird.
The whooping crane—whose range includes the Northwest Territories, Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba—is considered endangered due to damage to or destruction of the marshes, bogs, and shallow lakes where it lives. It is the tallest bird in North American, standing up to 1.5 metres tall. These birds are mainly white, with red, black, and grey markings on their heads, and black wingtips visible when they are outstretched.
The Atlantic and Pacific populations of the blue whale, recognized as the world’s largest mammal, are considered endangered. The Atlantic population is unknown, but between 20 and 105 are seen annually in the Gulf of the St. Lawrence. The Pacific population of blue whales between Mexico and California is estimated at between 1,500 and 3,000, while the population along the Western Canadian coast is unknown, though thought to be low.
Part of the weasel family, the American badger (both the jacksoni and jeffersonii subspecies) is considered endangered. The jacksoni subspecies has a very restricted range around the Great Lakes, mainly around Ontario's Bruce and Niagara peninsulas. The jacksoni population is estimated at between 0 and 200. The jeffersonii subspecies has a wider range in western North America, from California to Central Colorado, and north to the dry interior of Southern British Columbia. The jeffersonii population is estimated at 250 to 600. Both subspecies have a distinctive head pattern, with dark black-brown fur, white cheeks, a black crescent-shaped spot between their eyes and ears, and a mid-dorsal stripe that runs from their noses to their shoulders. These are mostly nocturnal creatures but can be seen in the daylight, particularly in the morning.
Northern bottlenose whale
The northern bottlenose whale population off the southeast coast of Nova Scotia is considered endangered. The most recent population estimate in that region is 130. Commercial shipping, fishing, and the marine petroleum industry are all considered threats to the whale.
The Atlantic-Gaspésie population of the woodland caribou is considered endangered. It is the largest and darkest-coloured of the caribou species, roaming in boreal forests and mountains from British Columbia to the island of Newfoundland. In addition to being hunted by humans, they are also preyed on by bears, wolves, coyotes, cougars, and lynx.