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Fauna & flora

Here, the land and sea abound in a highly diverse array of species, including whales, moose, salmon and the Atlantic lobster.

Visiting Unamen Shipu means observing extraordinary animals and contemplating timeless, often uninhabited landscapes.

The following information comes from the Nametauinnu site, a repository of Innu elders’ traditional knowledge.

Forests

The Côte-Nord includes two zones of vegetation (the sub-arctic forest and the boreal forest) and two significant climates, (the sub-arctic climate and the humid continental climate). The forest cover is composed of dense populations of conifers, particularly white spruce (Picea glauca), black spruce (Picea mariana), balsam fir (Abies balsamea) and tamarack (Larix laricina). Hardwood species are more plentiful in the southern part, and paper birch (Betula papyrifera), quaking aspen (Populus tremuloides) and balsam poplar (Populus balsamifera) as well as coniferous species: white pine (Pinus strobe), red pine (Pinus resinosa) and jack pine (Pinus banksiana).

In outcrop zones, the mosaic of soil and rock often presents a carpet of varied vegetation, dominated by lichen, bushes and herbaceous plants. At summer’s end, a few edible fruits are ripe for the picking. In addition to the popular blueberries, wild strawberries and raspberries, one can find black crowberries, lingonberries (or red berries), creeping snowberries, juniper berries and cloudberries.

Fauna

The Côte-Nord fauna is typical of the boreal forest. Three species of big game, moose, black bear and caribou, are found there. Anticosti Island’s plentiful red deer were introduced only in 1896-97. Moose and black bear are more or less equally distributed over the entire territory. The density of the moose population tends to increase in sectors of regeneration that have been affected by fire.

The black bear, that ultimate omnivore, lives in dense forest but is frequently found in waterfront areas or clearings where wild berries such as lingonberries or blueberries grow.

Once plentiful, caribou is now rare in the southern part of the Côte-Nord. It is found mostly near peat bogs rich in lichen. From West to East, small herds can be found close to the eastern shore of what is now Pipmuacan Reservoir in the sectors of Lac DionneMount Saint-Pancrace and the Manic V Reservoir north of Baie-Comeau. Sparse herds are found north of Sept-Îles, although the sectors of Lakes FournierMuleVital and Wacouno show a somewhat greater concentration of individuals in winter. North of Mingan (up to the Labrador border) and in the Basse-Côte-Nord, caribou are also present here and there in small concentrations. They are not present on Anticosti Island.

In winter, part of the barren-ground caribou herd from George River (which flows into Ungava Bay), whose population is estimated at several hundred thousand, travels over the northern sector of the region, sometimes even reaching the Fermont region at the southern extremes of its migration.

Small fauna is well represented. The snowshoe hare is present, as well as the lynx, its most important predator. The spruce grouse lives in clearings and edges in the coniferous forest, and in sectors ravaged by fire. The ruffled grouse (partridge) is confined to the South near the coast, whereas the red grouse and the rock ptarmigan are present in the North during their winter migration southward.

There are many varieties of furry animals. The presence of beaver, muskrats, river otters and mink is noted in and near aquatic environments. The elusive wolf frequents the forest and open areas. The woodchuck, red fox and striped skunk, which have benefited from forestry and agricultural occupation for the last two centuries, prefer open or semi-open spaces such as clearings, sparse forests, river valleys or lakeshores. Finally, the porcupine, red fox and northern flying squirrel can be found in resinous and mixed forests.

The wolverine, extremely rare today, is confined to the extreme north of the forested area. The pine marten and fisher marten are present in rather small numbers, primarily in northern resinous forests. Occasionally, the fisher marten frequents brush forests and waterfronts. Finally, the ermine and least weasel occupy diverse habitats, particularly those frequented by voles, which make up their menu.

Interior Aquatic Fauna

More than 20 species of fish have been inventoried on the Côte-Nord territory. The most plentiful of these species are the salmonidae, among which brook trout are the most widespread. Landlocked salmon, lake char, arctic char, northern pike, burbot, longnose sucker, white sucker and lake whitefish are also found there. Brook trout, yellow perch, and walleye are found in smaller numbers in the region’s south. Some species such as salmon and sea trout only visit the Côte-Nord‘s rivers and lakes during certain periods of their life cycle.

Aviary Fauna

The region surrounding the estuary and the Gulf of Saint Lawrence is characterized by a plentiful and diverse aviary fauna. Several migratory birds stop over in spring and fall. In addition, several species of marine, coastal, or shore birds nest in these sectors during the summer, and many stay in ice-free zones over the winter.

Among the most common species of wild birds are the American black duck, the common goldeneye, the common merganser, the green-winged teal, the American scoter, the common eider and the oldsquaw. The Canada goose stops over in the coastal marshes from the end of April till mid-May, nesting quite regularly in the region’s north.

The Maritime Environment

The Côte-Nord is bordered by the maritime estuary (from Saguenay to Pointe-des-Monts), and by the gulf, more than 100 km wide between Moisie and Mont-Saint-Pierre. The 350-meter-deep estuary allows a mass of dense water (33-34 % salinity, 2 to 5 °C), to enter, surmounted by the Labrador current, which enters by the Belle-Isle strait (32-33% salinity, -1 à 2 °C). Facing the Saguenay, these waters collide with the back end of the Laurentian Channel and mix on the surface with the freshwater from the Côte-Nord’s rivers.

Marine Mammals

There are five main species of seal in the Gulf of Saint Lawrence. However two, the hooded and ringed seals, are observed only occasionally. The harp seal abounds in the Gulf but it only lives there a small part of the year. It can sometimes be found in the estuary during winter or early spring, when the females of the species gather by the hundreds off the Magdalen Islands to mate and calve (in March).

The grey and common seals are uniformly distributed along the coast of the Haute-Côte-Nord. The grey seal is a predator of cod, plaice and salmon. Gregarious, it can be found in groups or open rock faces and islands. It breeds in winter (January-February) on the ice or rocky islands. Present in the Gulf year-round, it frequents the estuary’s shores, especially in summer.

The common seal is a year-round resident of the estuary. Smaller, it too eats salmon and cod, but also tommy-cod, lamprey and clams. At times, it may pursue its prey by following certain large rivers upstream. In herds, it frequents certain beaches, coves and capes. Mating takes place between late July and early September, whereas the seals calve in May and June on capes, reefs and sandbars.

A total of 18 species of Cetaceans (whales, dolphins and porpoises) frequent the waters of the marine estuary and the Gulf of Saint Lawrence. The estuary is inhabited mainly by belugas, great blue whales, fin whales, minke whales, long-finned pilot whales, Atlantic white-sided dolphins and harbour porpoises. The section of the Laurentian Channel between Les Escoumins and Tadoussac is the most popular because of its strong surface plankton production, caused by the entry of salt water at the mouth of the Saguenay. The northern part of the Gulf is visited by the small, common, blue, and humpback whales, as well as by the Atlantic white-sided dolphin and rarely, the killer whale.