Wildlife has come to define Alaska. Images of grand grizzlies, a breaching humpback whale, or a bald eagle snatching a salmon from a stream have come to symbolize the spirit of the United States' largest state. The list of Alaskan wildlife is long and diverse. Here is a sampling of Alaska's most famous inhabitants.
Nearly 98 percent of the country's grizzly bears live in Alaska. They are found throughout Alaska, but are salmon hungry, so look for grizzlies in salmon country in southwestern region of the state and along the Gulf of Alaska's coast. Black bears, ranging in colors from blue-black, cinnamon brown, and even a rare creamy white, are usually spotted inland, in forested areas. Unlike the larger grizzlies, these black bears are excellent climbers. Kodiaks are a sub-species of the grizzly and found only on the Kodiak archipelago. At 1,500 pounds, they are the largest bears in the world. In sea ice of the Arctic region, the lucky traveler might have the chance to spot the elusive, brilliant white Polar Bear.
Moose are found throughout the state, except in the extreme north. A bull moose can weight up to 1,600 pounds – combine their size with their huge antlers, this makes the moose an impressive animal and a favorite for wildlife enthusiasts. Travelers have spotted moose wandering the in city limits, along highways, railways and in the state's numerous parks and reserves. Kenai Peninsula has a moose refuge; this wildlife sanctuary is an excellent place to find these large horse-sized deer.
Whales are so common in Alaska that some gutsy sight-seeing trips market a "whale sighting guarantee." Humpback whales spend the summer feeding on the nutrient rich waters in the Gulf of Alaska. Humpbacks are found throughout the Inside Passage, in Glacier Bay, Prince William Sound and around the waters of Kodiak Islands. The distinctive black and white orcas and also commonly spotted in large groups in Southeast Alaska. Smaller belugas are found in Cook Inlet and the Turnagain Arm near Anchorage, while bowhead whales feed in Alaska's icy Arctic waters in the northern region of the state.
Other Marine Mammals
Sea otters are a universal favorite for their playful manner and curious personality. Adult sea otters reach roughly 4.5 feet, and are frequently seen in kelp beds and along the coasts of Prince William Sound. A variety of seals including the Steller fur seal and Harbor seal are also very common on Alaskan coasts. Another famous marine mammal is the walrus. These huge animals can weight 2 tons. Both males and females grow the distinctive tusks, which they use for fighting and maneuvering their massive bodies out of the water. Walruses typically follow the sea ice, seasonally migrating northward in the summer months.
Thousands of birds nest, breed, migrate and inhabit Alaska's coasts, prairies and mountains. In June, the wide variety of song-birds have nothing but praises to sing as they busy themselves with courtships and preparing for new hatchlings. Bald eagles circle the coasts and streams where the salmon are abundant, while golden eagles search for small rodents in Denali National Park. Other popular birds are Alaska's loons, owls, swans, puffins, and the state bird ptarmigan, which has the curious ability to change white in the winter and brown in the summer months.