Alaska's Wildlife
One of the most thrilling aspects of taking an Alaskan vacation is the opportunity it presents to observe a variety of wildlife – all in their natural habitat.


For most, the concept of Alaskan wildlife doesn't extend beyond polar bears and salmon. But those who venture north know there's nothing like the sight of a 40-ton humpback whale breaking the surface of the water for air. During the summer months, more than 2,000 humpbacks are known to feed in the waters off Alaska, offering visitors plenty of chances to enjoy the splendor of these magnificent giants of the sea.


Killer (orca) and beluga whales are equally abundant, as are the sociable Pacific white-sided dolphins, which often entertain with their acrobatic leaps and somersaults. In Prince William Sound, seals and sea lions congregate along the shore and on chunks of glacier ice floating in the water. But the animal that seems to be enjoying itself the most is the irresistible sea otter, which often can be seen swimming on its back or hugging a friend as they frolic together in the water.


Another active denizen of the sea is the salmon, famous for its gravity-defying leaps up waterfalls and streams in order to spawn. While this arduous trek only occurs at the end of an adult salmon's life, it never fails to coincide with feeding time for the brown bears that inhabit the Alaska coastline.


Grizzly and black bears can be found farther inland, in places like Denali National Park and Preserve, where a plethora of berries keeps these permanent residents well fed. In addition to bears, Denali is an ideal place to observe the wide-antlered caribou, moose, gray wolves and Dall sheep, the latter identified by its curled horns. Together, these wondrous animals constitute the "Denali Big Five," a sightseer's dream. A


Flying high above it all is the majestic bald eagle, which boasts a wingspan of up to eight feet. Some 40,000 bald eagles reside in Alaska today, with most nesting near water for easy fishing. They are one of more than 300 species of birds that can be found here, each a delight to observe and photograph. Other signature birds include the horned and tufted puffins, which thrive on the western end of Prince William Sound and along the Kenai Peninsula; the docile kittiwake, which nest in colonies along Glacier Bay; and the red-tailed hawk, a fixture at Wrangell-St. Elias.