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Alaska’s iconic wildlife species: On land and sea

Welcome to the untamed wilderness of Alaska, where nature reigns supreme and wildlife thrives. This vast and rugged land is home to a diverse array of animals, both on land and in the surrounding oceans. Prepare to be captivated by the awe-inspiring beauty and incredible biodiversity that Alaska has to offer. 

Alaska, aka the Last Frontier, is a mesmerizing wilderness that boasts a remarkable array of wildlife. From towering mountains of Denali National Park to sprawling tundras and the icy waters of Prince William Sound, this vast land offers a unique habitat for a wide variety of species. Here are our six favorites… 

1. Grizzly Bears (Ursus arctos horribilis) 

Grizzly bear roaming Denali National Park, Alaska

Alaska is home to one of the largest populations of grizzly bears on the planet. These majestic creatures can be found throughout the state, particularly in the coastal areas and river valleys where salmon runs are abundant.  

Scientifically known as Ursus arctos horribilis, these magnificent creatures exhibit a series of adaptations enabling them to thrive in their environment. Grizzly bears possess a robust physique, characterized by their muscular humps that are made up of a combination of muscle and connective tissue supporting their massive forelimbs. The humps help them to endure long periods of hibernation during harsh winters.

2. Bald Eagles (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) 

Bald eagle soaring in the sky

With its striking white head and tail contrasting against a dark brown body, the bald eagle is a symbol of freedom and strength. Alaska's vast coastline and abundant fish stocks provide the perfect environment for these magnificent birds. Witnessing bald eagles soaring through the sky or perched on a tree branch, scanning the waters for their next meal, is a sight that will leave you in awe. 

With a wingspan of up to 7 feet, bald eagles are perfectly adapted for aerial hunting. Their sharp, hooked beaks and powerful talons enable them to catch and carry prey, primarily fish, with remarkable precision. Bald eagles also engage in elaborate courtship rituals, engaging in breathtaking aerial displays to establish and reinforce pair bonds. 

3. Moose (Alces alces) 

Moose in the Alaskan forest

Alaska is home to the world’s largest subspecies of moose, the Alaskan moose. These towering herbivores are known for their impressive size and unique antlers. With their long legs and distinctive bulbous nose, moose are a true symbol of the wild North and a common sight in Denali National Park. Be sure to observe these animals from a safe distance, however as they can be unpredictable and potentially dangerous. 

Male moose, known as bulls, develop enormous antlers annually, which can span up to 6 feet in width. These antlers serve various purposes, including defense, intraspecies competition, and attracting mates during the rutting season. Moose are uniquely adapted to their environment, with elongated legs and broad hooves that facilitate movement across wet and snowy terrains. 

4. Humpback Whales (Megaptera novaeangliae)

Humpback whale breaching in Frederick Sound, Alaska

Prince William Sound offers an extraordinary opportunity to witness majestic humpback whales going about their business. These gentle giants migrate to Alaskan waters during the summer months to feed on the abundant plankton and fish. Humpback whales are renowned for their spectacular acrobatic displays, such as breaching, tail slapping, and fin waving, which scientists believe may serve communication purposes or aid in removing parasites from their bodies. They also engage in complex vocalizations, known as "songs," which consist of a series of hauntingly beautiful melodies. These intricate songs vary across populations and are thought to play a role in mate attraction and social bonding. Witnessing a pod of these magnificent creatures is an undoubted highlight of any Alaskan adventure. 

5. Arctic Foxes (Vulpes lagopus) 

White Arctic fox standing in winter snow

The Arctic fox is a captivating creature that has uniquely adapted to Alaska's harsh Arctic environment. These small mammals boast remarkable physiological and morphological adaptations to thrive in extreme cold. They exhibit two distinct coat colorations: a pristine white in winter for camouflage against the snow, and a brownish-gray in summer to blend with the tundra landscape. Their thick fur provides exceptional insulation, while their short ears and snout aid in minimizing heat loss. Arctic foxes are capable of withstanding temperatures as low as -58 degrees Fahrenheit.  

6. Steller Sea Lions (Eumetopias jubatus) 

Stellar sea lions lounging in the Gulf of Alaska, Whittier Cruise

Steller sea lions are the largest members of the Otariidae family. These majestic creatures inhabit Alaska's coastal waters, forming colonies on rocky haul-out sites and remote islands. Adult males, known as bulls, exhibit an impressive size, reaching lengths of up to 10 feet and weighing over 2,000 pounds. They are easily distinguishable by their thick necks and impressive manes, which grow more prominent with age. Females, or cows, are comparatively smaller but still substantial in size. 

Breeding colonies are typically established during the summer months, where territorial males fiercely defend their harems. Bulls engage in intense vocalizations and physical displays to assert dominance and attract mates. These vocalizations, including roars and growls, play a crucial role in communication within the colony. Steller sea lions are skilled divers, capable of descending to depths of several hundred feet in search of fish such as salmon, herring, and rockfish.  

Alaska's wildlife is as diverse as its landscapes, offering a glimpse into the untamed beauty of the Last Frontier. Witness these iconic species for yourself on one of our most popular Alaska tours. Or speak to a Destination Expert about crafting the Alaskan wildlife adventure of your dreams. 

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