British Columbia is one of my favorite parts of Canada. From the mountains to the oceans, it has stunning views everywhere. With such amazing, varied habitats, it is no wonder that there are so many different species of mammals.
Over 130 species of mammals can be seen in British Columbia. These include some of the largest mammals, including bison, bear, and moose, to the smallest jumping mice. The blue whale, humpback whale, and harbor seal are just some of the many marine mammals seen off the coast.
I provide just a few of the mammals you can see in British Columbia in this list.
Approximately 1,700 American bison are living in British Columbia. There are two species of bison in British Columbia, plains bison and wood bison. There are about 1,500 plains bison and under 150 wood bison in the wild.
There is a herd of wood bison in Nordquist Flats with 50 animals and a smaller herd north of the Beaver River with 30 animals. You can find the third herd near Etthithun Lake.
There is also a large herd of plains bison in Pink Mountain and the Sikanni Chief River area. There are approximately 1,500 plains bison in this herd.
The American bison is the largest land animal in British Columbia. They measure up to 2.8 meters long and weigh up to 1,000 kg.
American Black Bear
Up to 160,000 American black bears live in British Columbia, which is almost a quarter of all black bears in the country.
To give you some idea of how many black bears are in British Columbia, there are about 7,000 living just on Vancouver Island.
The black bear is a midsize mammal, but they are not always black. Their fur is also brown, tan, or even blonde.
They measure from 130 to 190 cm and weigh up to 300 kg. The black bear has a varied diet consisting of fish, mammals, insects, grasses, berries, and roots.
There are six subspecies of the black bear found in British Columbia.
- Cinnamon bear
- Olympic black bear
- Vancouver Island black bear
- Queen Charlotte Islands black bear
- Kermode black bear
- Glacier bear
Although the blue whale is the largest living animal on Earth, sightings off the British Columbia coast are rare.
They can be seen off the coast of Vancouver Island when they migrate in the spring and fall between their feeding grounds and breeding ground. However, sightings are infrequent. A blue whale was caught on camera in July 2019 off Vancouver Island.
Although they are slightly smaller in the Northern Hemisphere, blue whales reach sizes between 69-95 ft (21-29m). Males are smaller than females, with the largest weighing up to 150 tons.
The diet of a blue whale consists mainly of microscopic krill but will also feed on crab and squid. They are easy to spot because of their vast size and distinguished by their flattened, broad, U-shaped head and black baleen. Even though they are so large, they have a tiny dorsal fin set far back.
Boreal Woodland Caribou
The boreal woodland caribou is a species of reindeer that lives in the northern regions of North America. Five herds reside in British Columbia, with a total number under 750.
All boreal woodland caribou can be found in the northeast area of British Columbia, occupying the Taiga Plains. There are two other woodland caribou ecotypes in British Columbia, the mountain woodland caribou and the northern woodland caribou. These are much more prevalent and number up to 15,000 provincewide.
The boreal woodland caribou is the largest caribou subspecies measuring from 1 to 1.2 m at the shoulder and weighing from 110 to 210 kg. Their color changes throughout the year from dark brown in summer to grayish-brown in winter.
Caribou are herbivores eating leaves, grasses, lichens, and mosses. They find these in the boreal forests, which they call home. The caribou is important to Canadians and is located on the back of the Canadian 25c coin.
The brown bear is one of the largest land mammals in British Columbia. The brown bear is also known as the grizzly bear. There are thought to be up to 20,000 brown bears living in British Columbia, half of the country’s population.
Brown bears live throughout British Columbia and in many habitats, including forests and woodland, and can be found at elevations from sea level to 1,800 meters. A healthy brown bear can live from twenty to thirty-five years in the wild.
Their color ranges from light to dark brown with grizzled silver tips, from which they get the nickname. They are the largest bear in British Columbia and measure from 1.4 to 2.8 m and weigh up to 217 kg depending on the year. Brown bears bulk up considerably for the cold winter, sometimes by 40%.
Brown bears are omnivores and will eat roots, fruit, grass, insects, carcasses, and fish.
California Sea Lion
The California sea lion is a species of eared seal native to the western coast. Many will travel up to winter on Vancouver Island, with up to 4,000 forming large rookeries, and although you can see them all year round, the greatest numbers are from September to May.
Most of the California sea lions on Vancouver Island are males, as the females prefer to stay further south. Males will migrate down for the breeding season.
Males weigh up to 350 kilograms, while females are much smaller, weighing up to 100 kilograms. Bulls are dark brown with sandy-brown sides, while cows are pale tan.
California sea lions can be found on sandy or rocky beaches and inquisitive around vessels, and can often be seen swimming around with cetaceans. However, they have to be wary of killer whales.
They feed on fish and various squid species but must be wary of predators, including killer whales and great white sharks.
The Canada lynx can be found throughout mainland British Columbia but not on the coastal islands. They can be found in boreal and sub-boreal forests and are more prevalent in the northern part of the province, especially around Fraser and Nechako.
There are about 7,000 lynx throughout Canada, but British Columbia’s population has never been determined.
Their color ranges from grayish-yellow to reddish-brown, and they have a black mark on the tip of their ears and tail. They measure from 76 to 110 cm and weigh 8 to 18 kg. They usually live in cold, dense forests and have a lifespan of 15 years in the wild.
The population of the Canada Lynx is determined by the life cycle of their prey. Their diet consists mainly of snowshoe hares which have a life cycle of 10 years. As the population of hares increases, lynx are healthier, and their numbers are more stable. Once the hare population declines, lynx suffer from increased home ranges and decreased kitten survival.
There are two species of pika in British Columbia, the Rocky Mountain pika and the collared pika. The collared pika can be found in the northern regions such as Kluane National Park and Reserve at high elevations.
It is unknown how many collared pikas live in British Columbia, but it is thought that the Canadian population exceeds 10,000. They are small-sized animals, weighing 160 grams on average and measuring 17.8 to 19.8 centimeters in length.
The dorsal side of their body is gray, and a collar is formed by patches on their shoulder and nape, from which the name comes.
Collared pikas can be found in mountainous regions, and they typically inhabit rock slides near areas of vegetation and meadows. They use the rocks as protection from high temperatures they experience during the day.
Out of the 4,000 cougars in Canada, over 3,500 live in British Columbia. They can be found throughout the province, but most are located in the interior south around the Kootenay and Okanagan regions. They have not been seen on the Queen Charlotte Islands, but they have been seen on most other coastal islands.
They are also known as the puma, mountain lion, and catamount. The cougar is a solitary, elusive, and primarily nocturnal wildcat. Their color is grayish-brown with a white underbody. Cougars measure about 2.4 m long (including a long tail) and weigh 53 to 100 kg.
Cougars are carnivores, with their main diet consisting of deer. They will also prey on elk, coyotes, mountain goats, beavers, moose, and wild sheep. Smaller cougars will prey on smaller mammals than larger cougars.
They can live in an enormous range of habitats and have a home range of up to 15 km. They have a lifespan that ranges between 8 to 13 years.
The Douglas squirrel is a pine squirrel found on the Pacific coast of the United States and the Southwestern coast of British Columbia. This squirrel is about 33 cm in length and weighs between 150 to 300 grams.
This species was called “Piiiiiiloooet” by the Native Americans of Kings River because of its characteristic alarm call. The eyes of the Douglas squirrel have white rings around them.
The fisher is a small, solitary, mainly nocturnal, aggressive, and elusive weasel. They are related to the American marten.
Their color varies from dark brown to black, with a lifespan of seven years in the wild and, in rare cases, up to 14 years in captivity. They measure from 75 to 120 cm and weigh 2 to 6 kg.
The fisher is a carnivore that eats mice, snowshoe hares, birds, cats, poultry, shrews, porcupines, and squirrels. Even though they move on the ground most of the time, they are also an excellent climber.
They live in forests in the southern part of Canada and the northern and western parts of the United States.
The gray whale grows between 46-49 ft (11-15m) and reaches an 18-40 tons weight. Females grow larger than males.
Their diet consists of schooling fish, crabs, amphipods, and mysids. They frequently approach whale-watching boats and have lots of surface activity. They give birth to a single calf born after a gestation period of 12-13.5 months.
They migrate a considerable distance, sometimes up to 12,400 miles, to journey between their feeding grounds and breeding grounds.
The groundhog is a solitary, diurnal rodent. Their color is grayish brown. It measures from 41 to 68 cm (including the tail) and weighs 2 to 6.3 kg.
Groundhogs are herbivores eating mainly wild grass, roots, leaves, barks, nuts, flowers, fruit, vegetables, and farming crops. They also eat insects such as grasshoppers and snails.
Their big front teeth never stop growing, and feeding themselves wears the teeth down, keeping them at the correct size. Humans consider the groundhog a pest because it eats voraciously in the year’s warm months.
They hibernate from October to March. They can be found in flat, open pieces of land such as low-elevation forests and grasslands in the northern regions of North America.
They have a lifespan of 6 years in the wild and up to 14 years in captivity.
The harbor seal is also known as the common seal. Their color is brownish gray with light or dark spots, and the color is lighter on the underbody. They measure 1.85 m and weigh from 55 to 168 kg.
They are carnivores and eat squid, crustaceans, shrimp, crab, mollusks, and fish. They live in the harbors on both the east and west coasts of the northern regions of North America.
They can usually be found in rocks, beaches, and glacier ice, rarely moving from too far. However, they will rush to deeper water if there is a danger.
They are an excellent swimmer and have a lifespan of 20 to 35 years.
The humpback whale grows between 46-56 ft (14-17m) with a weight of between 28-45 tons.
They approach whale-watching boars and are very curious. They are popular with whale-watchers due to their breaching, lobtailing, spy hopping, and flipper-slapping.
They have an 11-12 months gestation period and give birth to one calf. They can be seen in many places in North America, with Hawaii, British Columbia, and Alaska as perfect places to spot them.
The killer whale is also commonly known as the Orca, a name taken from its binomial name of Orcinus orca.
Killer whales are the largest dolphin family members, growing from 6 to 8 meters long and weight 5.9 tons. Females are smaller than males.
They are one of the fastest marine mammals due to their size and incredible strength, reaching speeds up to 56 km/h. They have a black upper side with a white underside.
The moose is a solitary animal with huge antlers. Moose are the largest members of the deer family. Their color ranges from light to dark brown. The moose is massive, measuring from 1.4 to 2.1 m in height and 2.4 to 3.2 m in length. They weigh from 200 to 700 kg.
Moose are herbivores and eat bark, leaves, pine cones, young branches, and fruits. Moose live in forests in the northern part of the entire world and lifespan from fifteen to twenty-five years.
Northern Elephant Seal
The Northern elephant seal is one of two species of sea elephants alive. Their name comes from their large size and the proboscis that characterizes males of this species, which are used to make loud roaring noises, especially during mating.
Their dimensions are typically about 4 to 5 meters in body length for males, while females measure about 2.5 to 3.5 meters. Males usually weigh about 1500 to 2300 kilograms while females range between 400 to 900 kilograms.
Males are much bigger than females, and a successful male can impregnate up to 50 females in one season.
Northern elephant seals live in the eastern Pacific Ocean and spend most of their time underwater. They can be found in British Columbia, California, and Baja California.
Some significant colonies are found in several Pacific Islands in the United States and Mexico. They primarily feed on fish and squid.
Northern Right-whale Dolphin
The Northern right whale dolphin is a large species of dolphin, measuring 10.2ft (3.1m), although only weighing 250 lb.
They are distinctive in appearance as being the only dolphin in the North Pacific without a dorsal fin. They are black with a lighter white underside. They travel with other dolphins, including Risso’s and Pacific white-sided dolphins.
They can often be seen in British Columbia and California, including Monterey Bay. Although most schools are spotted with 100-200 animals, superpods of 3,000 have been seen.
The Roosevelt elk was named after Theodore Roosevelt. The naming of the elk was by President Franklin D. Roosevelt.
They are one of the largest terrestrial mammals in North America, with weights recorded to 590 kg, although most grow to almost 400 kilograms. They stand up to 5.5 feet tall at the shoulder with a length of 3 meters.
The Roosevelt Elk is the largest of the four elk species found in North America. They feed on plants, including grasses, berries, and sedges. Being one of the larger mammals, their lifespan has been 25 years in captivity and up to 15 years in the wild.
They have a pale brown body with a darker brown head. They have adapted well to many habitats, including meadows and forests.
Townsend’s Big-eared Bat
Townsend’s big-eared bat is a species of vesper bat found in Canada, Mexico, and throughout the western regions of the United States.
They are medium-sized bats with extraordinarily long and flexible ears, which explains the common name. Their total body length is about 10 centimeters, with a tail of 5 cm and a wingspan of about 28 cm.
They require large cavities for roosting and are mainly found in abandoned buildings and mines, caves, and basal cavities of trees.
In winter, they hibernate in dwellings, including rocky crevices, tunnels, and spaces under loose tree bark, among others.
Males are usually solitary, while females form maternity colonies, where they raise their pups. Hibernation occurs in tightly packed clusters which helps to maintain body temperature in the colder temperatures. They feed almost exclusively on Lepidoptera, a species of moth.
Vancouver Island Marmot
The Vancouver Island marmot varies its weight during the year between 3 to 7 kilos and can measure between 56 to 70 cm in length.
The Vancouver Island marmot is one of the largest species of marmot, and it’s endemic to the mountains of Vancouver Island in British Columbia.
They are critically endangered due to climate change that has reduced the portions of their natural habitat. Their reintroduction and efforts have aided the recovery of the species, and the population is now starting to grow.
Western Spotted Skunk
The Western spotted skunk is a species native to North America. They usually measure between 35 to 45 cm in body length and weigh around 336 to 734 grams.
Males are considerably larger than females. However, they are considered one of the smallest species of spotted skunks.
They are characterized by a black body striped with creamy-white horizontal stripes on their back, the front of the body, and the hind parts. They are short and rounded, with a white spot between their eyes. Their tails are big and long-haired, primarily black with a white tip.
Western skunks also possess a pair of musk glands that open inside the anus and can spray to ward off predators.
They prefer to live in mixed woodlands, open areas, and farmlands. They are primarily nocturnal animals and feed on insects, small vertebrates, and berries.
The wolverine resembles a small bear but is the largest member of the Mustelidae family. They are ferocious and have huge strength for their body size. They are the size of a medium dog but can take down prey many times their size, such as elk.
They live in cold climates, with thick, oily fur which is resistant to frost. They are dark in color, with a light mask on their face and a bushy tail. They have been called the skunk bear due to the scent glands to mark their territory.
The yellow-bellied marmot can weigh up to 5 kilograms and usually measures between 47 and 68 cm in length. This marmot is also known as a rock chuck. They are a large species and are one of the fourteen species of marmots.
They are native to the mountainous regions of Canada and the Rocky Mountains, Mount Rainer, and the Sierra Nevada. These animals usually inhabit areas above 6500 feet (or 2000 meters). Their fur is brown with a bushy tail.
They live in colonies with a single dominant male and hibernate for approximately eight months during the winter.
Bryan Harding is a member of the American Society of Mammalogists and a member of the American Birding Association. Bryan is especially fond of mammals and has studied and worked with them around the world. Bryan serves as owner, writer, and publisher of North American Nature.