Extinct Animals in Canada

As of May 2021, 18 animal species once found in Canada are now extinct, according to the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC). The committee’s definition of a wildlife species includes taxonomic categories as well as geographically distinct populations. For example, the Atlantic salmon appears on COSEWIC’s list of at-risk species 15 times, as there are 15 populations of Atlantic salmon in Canada facing different threats to their survival. Similarly, when one of these populations goes extinct — as was the case for Atlantic salmon in Lake Ontario in 1898 — there are specific, cascading effects for the ecosystem that the population belongs to. Communities may lose fishing opportunities and other animals may lose a source of food. Though the Atlantic salmon is an example of a species with populations still observable in the wild, this list of 18 also includes animals that no longer exist anywhere on the planet, such as the sea mink or great auk. The reasons for the extinction of these animals range from overhunting to predation from invasive species to,­ in the case of the Eelgrass limpet, a plight of slime mould.

As of May 2021, 18 animal species once found in Canada are now extinct, according to the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC). The committee’s definition of a wildlife species includes taxonomic categories as well as geographically distinct populations. For example, the Atlantic salmon appears on COSEWIC’s list of at-risk species 15 times, as there are 15 populations of Atlantic salmon in Canada facing different threats to their survival. Similarly, when one of these populations goes extinct — as was the case for Atlantic salmon in Lake Ontario in 1898 — there are specific, cascading effects for the ecosystem that the population belongs to. Communities may lose fishing opportunities and other animals may lose a source of food. Though the Atlantic salmon is an example of a species with populations still observable in the wild, this list of 18 also includes animals that no longer exist anywhere on the planet, such as the sea mink or great auk. The reasons for the extinction of these animals range from overhunting to predation from invasive species to,­ in the case of the Eelgrass limpet, a plight of slime mould.


Mammals

Atlantic Walrus
  1. Atlantic walrus (Odobenus rosmarus rosmarus), Nova Scotia-Newfoundland-Gulf of St. Lawrence population

COSEWIC assesses three populations of the Atlantic walrus. They declared the population living along the coasts of Quebec, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia and Newfoundland extinct in 2017.

  1. Dawsoni caribou subspecies (Rangifer tarandus dawsoni)

The dawsoni subspecies of caribou is only known to have lived in the northwestern part of Graham Island, in Haida Gwaii, British Columbia. It has not been seen since the 1930s. COSEWIC assesses 10 populations of caribou (Rangifer tarandus) and two subspecies, Rangifer tarandus pearyi and Rangifer tarandus dawsoni.

  1. Grizzly bear (Ursus arctos), Ungava population

There were two populations of grizzly bear in Canada, one native to the western part of the country, the other, known as the Ungava population, native to Northern Quebec and Labrador. Last recorded in 1948, the Ungava population is extinct.

  1. Sea mink (Mustela marcodon)

Researchers believe that the last sea mink was killed at Campobello Island, New Brunswick, around 1894. It ranged from Connecticut to the Bay of Fundy, and possibly as far north as Newfoundland. The sea mink was about two times the size of its cousin, the American mink (Mustela vison). Overhunting during the fur trade led to the sea mink’s extinction.

Birds

  1. Great auk (Pinguinus impennis)

At about 75 cm long, the great auk was the largest member of the Alcidae family, which includes murres and puffins, among other birds. Researchers believe that hunters killed the world’s last two great auks in Iceland in 1844. Valued for their meat, eggs, oil, fat and feathers, overhunting brought great auks to extinction. In Canada, they were found along the shores of Quebec, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Newfoundland.

  1. Labrador duck (Camptorhynchus labradorius)

The Labrador duck was a maritime bird that nested on islands off the shore of Labrador. It had a bill specially designed for eating mussels. Its extinction was likely the result of a decline in mussels and other shellfish due to pollution. Researchers believe that the last Labrador duck was seen at Elmira, New York, in 1878.

  1. Passenger pigeon (Ectopistes migratorius)

Passenger pigeons were found throughout much of southern Canada, from Saskatchewan to Nova Scotia. Once North America’s most abundant bird, the species went extinct mainly due to over-hunting and habitat loss. The last passenger pigeon died at a Cincinnati zoo in 1914.

Fishes

  1. Atlantic salmon (Salmo salar), Lake Ontario population

COSEWIC assesses 15 populations of Atlantic salmon. The population found in Lake Ontario was last recorded in 1898. Human settlement was the primary reason for the population’s extinction, as clearing land for timber and agriculture altered water levels and negatively affected water quality. Similarly, mills and dams built for the timber trade prohibited the salmon’s passage upstream.

  1. Banff longnose dace (Rhinichthys cataractae smithi)

The Banff longnose dace was a subspecies of longnose dace found in a single marsh in Banff National Park. These fish were small — at most, they grew to just over 5 cm. Not seen since the 1970s, the fish was designated extinct in 1986.

  1. Blue walleye (Sander vitreus glaucus)

The blue walleye, a subspecies of the yellow walleye, was found in lakes Ontario and Erie, as well as the Niagara River. Overexploited as part of a commercial fishery, the last blue walleye was caught in 1965.

  1. Deepwater cisco (Coregonus johannae)

In Canada, the deepwater cisco was found in Lake Huron. It went extinct in 1952. Scientists believe that the species vanished due to commercial fishing and predation by the sea lamprey (see alsoInvasive Species in Canada: Animals).

  1. and 13. Hadley Lake benthic and limnetic threespine stickleback (Gasterosteus aculeatus)

Assessed separately by COSEWIC, these two types of threespine stickleback were only found in Hadley Lake on Lasqueti Island, British Columbia. One type fed at the bottom of the lake (benthic) and the other at the top (limnetic). Declared extinct in 1999, both types vanished after the introduction of a species of catfish called the brown bullhead.

  1. Lake Ontario kiyi (Coregonus kiyi orientalis)

As its name suggests, the Lake Ontario kiyi was found only in Lake Ontario. Last recorded in 1964, the subspecies went extinct due to overfishing and predation by introduced fish species (see alsoInvasive Species in Canada: Animals).

  1. and 16. Lake whitefish (Coregonus clupeaformis), small- and large-bodied populations found in Cumo Lake

COSEWIC assesses six populations of lake white fish, found in Nova Scotia, Ontario and the Yukon. Sometimes, lake whitefish evolve as pairs — larger and smaller versions of the same species. While whitefish are still found in Cumo Lake (located northwest of Sudbury, Ontario), this distinct species pair was designated extinct in 2018. The spiny waterflea, an invasive species of zooplankton, altered the food web and led to the whitefish’s decline.

  1. Striped bass (Morone saxatilis), St. Lawrence River population

COSEWIC assesses three populations of striped bass, found in the St. Lawrence River, the southern Gulf of St. Lawrence and the Bay of Fundy. In 2002, Quebec’s provincial government reintroduced striped bass to the St. Lawrence River, and banned commercial and sport fishing of the species at that location. While this population took to their new habitat, they are not the river’s original population of striped bass. COSEWIC designated the St. Lawrence River’s original population of striped bass extinct in 2019.

Molluscs

  1. Eelgrass limpet (Lottia alveus alveus)

Limpets are snail-like animals with cone-shaped shells. Lottia alveus alveus was a subspecies of eelgrass limpet found in the North Atlantic Ocean, from New York to Labrador. It fed exclusively off eelgrass, an aquatic flowering plant. When a slime mould called Labyrinthula caused eelgrass to disappear from the Eastern and Western North Atlantic, the eelgrass limpet disappeared too. It has not been seen since 1929.