Protecting and enhancing the natural values of Salt Spring Island and its surrounding waters




Mammals of Salt Spring Island


Southwestern British Columbia was once home to mammoths, mastodons, muskoxen, and bison, but these animals were displaced during the Fraser glaciation, which peaked some 15,000 years ago. As the ice retreated, the land was repopulated by wildlife immigrating from southern latitudes and from local ice-free refugia. Bison bones from Saanich on Vancouver Island and from Orcas Island date from the early postglacial period, when tundra parkland may have been prevalent. As the climate warmed, coniferous forests became dominant, suitable for a mammal fauna similar to that of today.

Presently, Salt Spring Island and Vancouver Island share many mammal species in common, and it is likely that there were episodes of postglacial dispersal between the two islands via temporary bridges of ice, sea bed, or glacial outwash plains. Vancouver Island is home to at least eight mammal species not known from Salt Spring, including marten, wolverine, and marmot. The lower number of species on Salt Spring is attributable to the smaller area of the island. Biodiversity typically declines with island size because small populations are more vulnerable to extinction.

Recently, significant changes on Salt Spring resulting from forestry, farming, and increasing settlement have altered the ecology of the island. Several hundred cattle were present by the early 1860s, when wolf poisoning began, and it is likely that wolves were gone by the 1880s. The last resident elk appears to have been shot in the 1860s. Alien species have been introduced and feral livestock have spread. Herbivores have thrived with the elimination of wolves and the decline of mountain lions.

Invasive Species and Environmental Protection

Several mammal species on Salt Spring are not native to British Columbia, and may cause significant environmental harm. These are the Brown Rat, Black Rat, Coypu, and rabbits. Rabbits are well established and damage to native flora may become extensive, as has been observed on other islands, such as Smith Island and San Juan Island.

Pets and livestock should not be released into the wild. Cats will prey upon native wildlife such as songbirds, bats, and reptiles, and may spread diseases and parasites. Feral sheep and goats negatively impact wild plant populations and diminish biodiversity, with a cascading effect on other animals, such as butterflies.

Species Records

Listed below are mammal species that have been observed on Salt Spring Island or in nearby waters. Species represented by museum specimens from Salt Spring are marked with an asterisk (*). Some animals are now rare (black bear, mountain lion), likely transients, swimming to Salt Spring from afar. Elk and wolf were extirpated in the 1800’s, although two bull elk were recorded on Salt Spring in the 1950’s, one of which was observed swimming Sansum Narrows, between Salt Spring and Vancouver Island. A wolf was reportedly shot in 1930. The number of bat species may be conservative; ongoing inventory may add new records. Occasionally sea otters are sighted, but these are strays from the outer coast, and this species is absent from the local archaeological record.


Report a Whale Sighting!

And for more information on the natural history of mammals, enter a species name (for example, mink) into the Smithsonian North American Mammals page.

European Rabbit

European Rabbit Oryctolagus cuniculus This rabbit is native to southwestern Europe and northwest Africa but has been introduced across the globe. This invasive species causes widespread loss to local biodiversity. Photo by Matthias

Eastern Cottontail

The Eastern Cottontail has speckled brown-gray fur above, reddish-brown fur around its neck and shoulders and lighter fur around its nose and on its undersides. It has big eyes and a tail that is puffy white on the underside. In the winter its fur may be more gray than brown.

Black rat

Black Rat  Rattus rattus Introduced rats prey upon native birds and can cause considerable damage around buildings and gardens. Rat problems near dwellings can be minimized by tightly securing garbage and by avoiding the placement of

Brown Rat

Brown Rat Rattus norvegicus The Brown Rat or Norway Rat is globally widespread and costs primary industry hundreds of millions of dollars per year. It has caused or contributed to the extinction or range reduction

Vagrant Shrew

Vagrant Shrew Sorex vagrans Vagrant shrews are found in southern BC, south along the coast to central California, and east to Idaho and Montana. Vagrant Shrews are insectivores with an incredibly fast metabolism, eating


Also called a Coypu or River Rat, this large rodent has webbed feet and lives in ponds, wetlands and riparian areas around Salt Spring Island. They are dark brown with a grey underbelly and white patches around their muzzle.

Deer Mouse

The deer mouse usually differs from the white-footed mouse (P. leucopus) in having: soft, luxuriant fur that is gray on the upper parts of the body, a uniformly colored back or a faint darker stripe along the middle, and a tail that is dark above and white below (bicolored) and is as long of longer than the combined lengths of the head and body, with a tuft of white hairs at the tip.


Muskrat Ondatra zibethicus The Common Muskrat lives on Salt Spring Island in ponds, wetlands and riparian areas. It is a medium large rodent with brown fur and a long black scaly tail.

Townsend Vole

The Townsend’s vole is a rodent known to thrive throughout wetlands and grassland meadows. Though considered one of the largest vole species around, adults typically weigh between 47 and 82.5 grams, and extend to a maximum length of 24 centimeters.


Beaver Castor canadensis The North American Beaver is the second largest rodent in the world. There were once estimated to be more than 60 million beavers in the world, but their population

Red Squirrel

The Red Squirrel is a found in coniferous and deciduous mixed forests on Salt Spring Island. Their fur is reddish to reddish grey with a creamy underbelly and white around the eyes. The tail is not as bushy as other tree squirrels. The red squirrel eats a wide-variety of foods including insects, seeds, bark, nuts, fruits, mushrooms and pine seeds or cones.

Yuma Myotis

Myotis yumanensis  This common Salt Spring bat can appear similar to the Little Brown Myotis and the two species may occupy the same roosts. The Yuma bat is distinguished from the Little Brown Myotis by

Little Brown Bat

Myotis lucifugus This is a small bat about the length of a human finger and the weight of a large coin. It takes flight at dusk to feed upon a variety of insects that are captured

Western Long-eared Myotis

Myotis evotis  This tiny bat has dark long ears and may have darkish shoulder patches. A fine fringe of hairs is present on the edge of the tail membrane. These bats roost under loose bark,

California Myotis

Myotis californicus This tiny bat has moderately-sized ears that would extend beyond the nose if pushed forward. It has a keel on the calcar, the ankle spur that supports the airfoil membrane (see below). A single

Long-legged Myotis

Myotis volans  This large Myotis bat has belly fur extending as far as the knees and elbows. The ears are rounded and fairly short. The Long-legged Myotis is associated with coniferous forests, especially old growth.

Big Brown Bat

Eptesicus fuscus  This very large bat can weigh 2- 4 times that of our smaller bat species. Ears are black and the distinctively long fur is brownish and oily. The large strong jaws are suited

Silver-haired Bat

Lasionycteris noctivagans  This bat is recognizable by its white-tipped hairs and short round ears with blunt ear tragus. It is often solitary in behavior, roosting in snags and live trees and hibernating under tree bark

Hoary Bat

Lasiurus cinereu  The hoary bat is has a grizzled camouflage appearance including some yellowish fur. Unlike most bats, the tail membrane is furred, which provides insulation for this tree-roosting bat. The hoary bat is solitary;

Townsend’s Big-eared Bat

Corynorhinus townsendii Townsend’s bat is recognizable by its enormous ears and glandular bulbs between the eyes and nostrils. Like most bats, the big-eared bat has a low reproductive rate, the female giving birth to a


Raccoon Procyon lotor Raccoons are a mostly nocturnal hunter, enjoying fresh fruits, nuts, berries, fish, insects, small mammals, eggs, grubs and amphibians. They are curious and known to eat garbage, chickens and anything left out

Short-tailed Weasel

Short-tailed Weasel Mustela erminea This uncommon weasel is slimmer than a mink, eats mostly voles, and lives in open forests, fields, along shorelines and in riparian areas. If you see a Short-tailed Weasel, please

American Mink

American Mink Mustela vison A long slinky brown  carnivore, mink weigh only about .5-1 kg and are about .5 m long. Their sleek fur made them a prized fur-bearing animal, and mink are still

Northern River Otter

Northern River Otter Lontra canadensis Northern river otters are a relatively large mustelid, weighing from 7-14 kg and lengths from 90-135 cm. They live near aquatic environments, foraging mostly on small fish, but will

Black Bear

Black Bear Ursus americanus This bear is found from Canada to northern Mexico, however it has been extirpated from much of it's historic range, especially through the midwest US and in Mexico. The bear is


Cougar Puma concolor The cougar is a large carnivore that is native to North America. Sometimes called a Mountain Lion or Puma, it ranges from the Canadian Yukon to the southern Andes of South America. It

Black-tailed Deer

Black-tailed Deer Odocoileus hemionus These coastal deer browse on trees and shrubs and graze on grasses, forbs, and lichens.. Deer browsing on Salt Spring and the other small islands in the Salish Sea is


Elk Cervus elaphus roosevelti Elk are the second-largest member of the deer family in North America, with Vancouver Island bulls weighing several hundred kg. Elk are tan to reddish-brown with a dark mane and

Northern Elephant Seal

Elephant seals are well named because adult males have large noses that resemble an elephant's trunk. Males begin developing this enlarged nose, or proboscis, at sexual maturity (about three to five years), and it is fully developed by seven to nine years. Adult males may grow to over 4 m in length and weigh up to 4,500 pounds (2,000 kg).

Harbour Seal

Pacific harbor seals have spotted coats in a variety of shades from white or silver-gray to black or dark brown. They reach five to 1.7-1.9 m in length and weigh up to 300 pounds (140 kg). Males are slightly larger than females. They are true or crawling seals, having no external ear flaps. True seals have small flippers and must move on land by flopping along on their bellies.

California Sea Lion

California Sea Lion Zalophus californianus The California Sea Lion is smaller and darker than the Steller Sea lion. Adult males are about 2 – 2.5 meters (6.5 – 8 ft) long and weigh 200 –

Steller Sea Lion

Steller Sea Lion Eumetopias jubatus The Steller Sea Lion is the largest sea lion, distinguished from seals by the presence of external ear flaps. Males are larger, weighing between 400-800 kg, while females average

Northern Fur Seal

Fur seals are known and named for their thick fur, which has 300,000 hairs per square inch. Europeans first named them "sea bears" which is similar to their scientific name Callorhinus ursinus, meaning "bear-like." Pups are born with a black pelt, which becomes dark brown with lighter coloration on the chest and belly. Adult males also have gray hair on the backs of their necks.

Harbour Porpoise

Phocoena phocoena. The Harbour Porpoise is one of the smallest cetaceans, averaging around 2 m in length. It is a shy species that is relatively short-lived (usually less than 20 years). They are grayish-white along their

Dall’s Porpoise

Dall’s Porpoise Phocoenoides dalli This porpoise is one of the two small porpoises seen on the BC coast. But they are different looking from the Harbour Porpoise in that they have white patches on their

Pacific White-sided Dolphin

Pacific white-sided dolphins are medium sized dolphins reaching up to 2.5 m in length. They are considered robust animals, with a large and strongly falcate (curved or hooked) dorsal fin. They have a small and unnoticeable beak, unlike bottlenose or common dolphins. Pacific white-sided dolphins have a distinct color pattern: they are dark gray or black on their back, sides and belly but have a striking large gray or off-white patch on both sides.

Killer Whale

This whale is identified by the long dorsal fin and the white markings on the head and underside. The southern resident killer whale population is declining in size, presently with less than 100 animals. Killer whales have a low reproductive rate, late age of maturity, long gestation period (up to 17 months) and may reproduce only at intervals of five years or more. They are vulnerable to marine pollution,

Gray Whale

Gray Whale Eschrichtius robustus The Gray Whale is a large mottled gray baleen whale that can be between 12-15 m long and weigh 27-36 tonnes. They spend their breeding life in the far north

Humpback Whale

Humpback Whale Megaptera novaeangliae The humpback whale is the largest whale you might see of BC's coast. They are about 15 m long and weight up to 40 tonenes. They are seen of BC's

Minke Whale

Minke Whale Balaenoptera acutorostrata The Minke Whale are a large, 7.5 m long baleen whale that can be seen off of BC's Coast from May to October each year. Large whales like the minke