Twice the size of Texas, with more wildlife than people, Alaska overflows with superlatives. It’s one of the greatest places on Earth to be in such close proximity to such an array of animals.
You can go dog sledding, head out on expeditions and even stay amongst wildlife at some of the wilderness lodges. However, it’s not a zoo. Knowing where to go and what to look for, will have you living your own David Attenborough moments. Denali National Park is a great place to start, which is a major destination on all Princess Cruises itineraries in Alaska. Here are some of the must see six animals in Alaska.
One of the icons of Alaska, bears are usually at the top of everyone’s wish list. There’s around 100,000 black bears and 35,000 brown bears and they’re all hungry. Follow the food trail and you’ll have your fill of bear encounters. For coastal bears, it’s all about the salmon and in places like Denali National Park, it’s more about berries and alpine grasses.
Admiralty Island has the highest concentration of brown bears in North America and is an easy float plane ride from Juneau. Brooks Falls near Anchorage has a great viewing platform to capture the quintessential bear gorging on salmon moment, or for somewhere a little more on the wild side, Anan Creek accessed from Ketchikan is one of the few places where black and brown bears often feed together. Bears are harder to spot in Denali, however Sable Pass is where they often hang out.
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.
A whale of a time
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.
Eyes to the sky
With around 300 species, Alaska is a dream for birders. If a life goal is to spot the symbol of America, you won’t be disappointed. Bald eagles are in abundance in Alaska and can be found all over the state. Mating for life, look out for their large nests in trees near water ways along the Inside Passage and during spring, you might catch a courting ritual where the male and female lock talons and spiral towards the ground as a sign of trust. Late in the season, around 3,000 eagles gather around Haines to scavenge for salmon. Other signature species include tufted and horned puffins, harlequin ducks, kittiwakes, loons and trumpeter swans.
Sealed with a kiss
What could be cuter than the eyes of a seal looking up at you? As one of the most curious creatures in the state, harbour seals are likely to pop out of the water at anytime to check you out. They also haul out on floating icebergs in front of glaciers all through the Inside Passage. In addition to the seals, you’ll easily see (and smell) large colonies of Stellar sea lions throughout the Inside Passage. As the largest of eared seals, watching the comical antics and bickering as they push each other off rocks is an entertaining way to spend a couple of hours.
Speaking of cute
Back from near extinction through fur hunting in the 1800’s playful sea otters are the surprise package of Alaska. Not only do they have densest hair coat of any mammal (around 400,000 hairs per square cm) they’re one of the few creatures on the planet that uses tools. Found floating on their backs in groups known as rafts, they carry a rock under their arm to use it to crack open clams, mussels and crabs. Look out for them in places like Glacier Bay National Park and around Sitka.
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