With more animals than people, Alaska is one of the greatest places on earth to encounter wildlife. Here are six of the best.
1. An Alaska icon, bears usually top everyone’s wish list. There are about 100,000 black bears and 35,000 brown bears in Alaska and they’re all hungry; follow the food and you’ll have your fill of bear encounters. For coastal bears, it’s all about salmon, while others are more into berries and alpine grasses. Admiralty Island has the highest concentration of brown bears in North America; Brooks Falls has a viewing platform for a bear-on-salmon moment; and Anan Creek is one of the few places black and brown bears feed together.
2. With more than 500 species, Alaska is a birder’s dream. Bald eagles, the symbol of the USA, are in abundance; look for their large nests in trees along the Inside Passage, and in spring, you might see a courting ritual where the male and female lock talons and spiral towards the ground as a sign of trust. Late in the season, about 3000 eagles gather near Haines to scavenge for salmon. Other species include puffins, harlequin ducks, kittiwakes, loons and trumpeter swans.
3. Back from near extinction due to fur hunting in the 1800s, playful sea otters are one of the few animals to use tools – they carry rocks under their arms to crack open food. Look out for them in Glacier Bay National Park and around Sitka, floating on their backs in groups known as rafts.
4. As one of the most curious creatures in the state, harbour seals are likely to pop out of the water to check you out. They also haul out on floating icebergs all through the Inside Passage. You’ll also see (and smell) colonies of comical Steller sea lions.
5. Although moose can be the size of a thoroughbred horse, and roam all over the state (often through towns and villages), they are also well camouflaged. As the largest member of the deer family, they graze on vegetation and often stand in lakes and ponds munching on aquatic plants. The golden hours, early morning and late afternoon are the best times to try to capture the classic image of water dripping off the massive antlers of a bull moose in places like Moose Pond in Denali National Park, the boardwalk at Potter Marsh near Anchorage and Moose Pass out of Seward has its name for good reason.
6. Spotting a whale in full breach is one of the ultimate Alaskan cruise moments. Nine different types of whales feed in the nutrient rich waters of Alaska, but the most common sightings are humpbacks. During the northern summer months, these magnificent cetaceans gorge themselves silly on fish before heading back to the warmer waters of Hawaii and Mexico. The distinctive blow of a whale can fill the air anywhere along the Inside Passage, particularly in places like Glacier Bay National Park, Icy Strait Point and Frederick Sound. Late in the season Sitka has incredible whale watching as it’s the last chance for the whales fill up on fish before they start their migration south. If you’re super lucky you might have an encounter with a pod of Orca, the holy grail of whale watching in Alaska.