Cape Breton Highlands National Park

Mammals can be found in all three land regions within Cape Breton Highlands National Park as well as along the coast and in the saltwater next to the park. Most mammals are quite secretive but you're sure to see a red squirrel, snowshoe hare or moose when you visit the park. If you're really lucky you might get to hear the coyotes howling in the night, or see some seals playing in the water off one of the beaches.

Land mammals

The mixture of Acadian, Boreal and Taiga land regions in northern Cape Breton offers a wide variety of habitats to both temperate (preferring warmer conditions) and boreal (preferring colder conditions) land mammals. However, natural barriers such as the Canso Strait and the highlands make it difficult for some land animals to move into Cape Breton. This is why there are only about 40 land mammal species on Cape Breton Island, three quarters of the number found on mainland Nova Scotia.

Red fox, black bear, bobcat, white-tailed deer, woodland jumping mouse, meadow jumping mouse and masked shrew are all typical Acadian forest species found in northern Cape Breton. Snowshoe hare, red squirrel, red-backed vole, Canada lynx, American marten and moose are typical boreal species found here. Although moose are listed as a boreal species, they are numerous within Cape Breton Highlands National Park and make use of all three land regions.

Adventive mammal species in Cape Breton include the raccoon, coyote and bobcat, which have all moved into Cape Breton on their own since the Canso Causeway was built in 1956. White-tailed deer were introduced to the island by humans in the early 1900s. Disjunct mammals in Cape Breton include the rock vole and Gaspé shrew.

Marine mammals

The most commonly seen marine mammals are the pilot whale, minke whale, white-sided dolphin and harbour seal. Pilot whales are especially common along the shore in summer, following schools of squid and mackerel which they eat. White-sided dolphins are common off shore in the summer. Humpback whales may occasionally be seen farther off shore in the summer. The threatened harbour porpoise and the fin whale, a species of special concern in Canada, may also sometimes be seen in the waters surrounding the park; the fin whale is usually following schools of herring.

Harbour seals and grey seals can be seen in summer along the east coast; harbour seals come on to the shore often in winter. Harp seals may occasionally be seen in the summer.

Checklist of land mammals in Cape Breton Highlands National Park
Family (Common name)
Species Scientific name Status in park
Soricidae (Shrews)
Masked shrew Sorex cinereus Abundant
American water shrew Sorex palustris Rare
Long-tailed shrew Sorex dispar ssp. Rare
Pygmy shrew Microsorex thompsoni Rare
Short-tailed shrew Blarina brevicauda Rare
Talpidae (Moles)
Star-nosed mole Condylura cristata Rare
Vespertilionidae (Bats)
Little brown bat Myotis lucifugus Uncommon
Northern long-eared bat Myotis septentrionalis Rare
Leporidae (Hares)
Snowshoe hare Lepus americana Uncommon to abundant
Cervidae (Deer)
Caribou Rangifer tarandus Extirpated
White-tailed deer Odocoileus virginianus Uncommon
Moose Alces alces Abundant
Castoridae (Beaver)
American beaver Castor canadensis Rare
Sciuridae (Squirrels)
Eastern chipmunk Tamias striatus Uncommon
Red squirrel Tamiasciurus hudsonicus Common
Northern flying squirrel Glaucomys sabrinus Uncommon
Muridae (Rats, mice and voles)
Deer mouse Peromyscus maniculatus Abundant
Red-backed vole Myodes gapperi Abundant
Southern bog lemming Synaptomys cooperi Rare
Muskrat Ondatra zibethicus Rare
Meadow vole Microtus pennsylvanicus Uncommon
Rock vole Microtus chrotorrhinus Rare
Norway rat Rattus norvegicus Rare - introduced
House mouse Mus musculus Rare - introduced
Dipodidae (Jumping mice)
Meadow jumping mouse Zapus hudsonicus Rare
Woodland jumping mouse Napaeozapus insignis Uncommon
Canidae (Dogs)
Coyote Canis latrans Common
Timber wolf Canis lupus Extirpated
Red fox Vulpes vulpes Common
Ursidae (Bears)
Black bear Ursus americanus Common
Procyonidae (Raccoons and pandas)
Raccoon Procyon lotor Uncommon
Mustelidae (Weasels)
American marten Martes americana Rare
Ermine Mustela erminea Uncommon
American mink Mustela vison Uncommon
River otter Lutra canadensis Rare
Felidae (Cats)
Canada lynx Lynx lynx Uncommon
Bobcat Lynx rufus Common

Checklist of marine mammals near Cape Breton Highlands National Park
Family (Common name)
Species Scientific name Status in park
Monodontidae (White whales)
Beluga whale Delphinapterus leucas Rare
Delphinidae (Dolphins and porpoises)
Atlantic white-sided dolphin Lagenorhyncus acutus Common - summer
Pilot whale Globicephala melaena Common - summer and fall
Harbour porpoise Phocoena phocoena Common - spring to fall
Balaenopteridae (Rorquals)
Fin whale Balaenoptera physalus Common - March and October
Sei whale Balaenoptera borealis Occasional visitor
Minke whale Balaenoptera acutorostrata Occasional visitor
Humpback whale Megaptera novaeangliae Occasional visitor
Phocidae (Seals)
Grey seal Halichoerus grypus Uncommon - late January to February
Harbour seal Phoca vitulina Common
Harp seal Phoca groenlandica Rare - January to April

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