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Alaskan Mammals
A black bear
Kent Miller/NPS

Black Bear (Ursus americanus)
Black bears are the most prevalent of all the bears found in Alaska, and they are also the most common bear encountered within Anchorage. Black bears are frequently seen on Anchorage trails and in neighborhoods, therefore knowing what to do when encountering a bear is a must even when traveling within the city limits. The black bear is the smallest of all the bears in Alaska and in contradiction to their name, these bears have a surprising amount of variation in fur color. This variation can make it challenging for animal viewers to tell the difference between brown bears and black bears. However, to the trained eye the difference can be quite clear. Black bears have a more stream-lined face than brown bears do, no hump above the shoulder blades, shorter claws, and are also generally smaller in size. Black bears are also known to be agile tree climbers, while brown bears are too large to climb trees with much success so it is usually only done by brown bear cubs. A black bear's diet consists primarily of berries and fish, but they are also opportunistic feeders that have been known to scavenge in dumpsters. The life span of a black bear is 25 years in captivity, but around twelve in the wild. At  the age of five or six black bears become sexually mature and usually give birth to two to three cubs every other spring. After approximately a year and a half with their mother, cubs will become independent and go their separate ways. Though small, black bears have been known to seriously injure people when provoked. Read more about bear safety before journeying into bear country.

brown bears
Kent Miller/NPS

Brown Bear (Ursus arctos)
The state of Alaska has an estimated 30,000 brown bears. Within this population of brown bears, there are three distinct groups that include the brown bear, the grizzly bear, and the Kodiak brown bear. The grizzly bear and the brown bear are identified as the same species, although grizzly is used to refer to bears in the interior of the state and brown bear refers to coastal Alaskan brown bears.  Kodiak brown bears are considered a subspecies of brown bear because of their genetic and physical isolation from mainland Alaska. A Kodiak brown bear can weigh up to 1500 pounds and is not only the largest brown bear but also the largest terrestrial carnivore in the world! Grizzly bears, on the other hand, are the smallest type of brown bear in Alaska and can weigh up to 900 pounds. The differences in size are due to their diet, which is based on their location in the state. The Kodiak brown  bear consumes mainly fish, whereas grizzly bears consume mostly berries, plants, small mammals such as ground squirrels, and larger game such as moose when it is available. Like the black bear, brown bears can show variations in fur color, ranging from a blonde coloring to almost black. There are physical differences between brown bears and black bears that help identify each species.  Brown bears have longer claws, a distinctive hump on their back, and shorter ears, as well as being larger overall. Brown bears inhabit almost all of Alaska except the islands south of Frederick Sound in southeast Alaska, west of Unimak in the Aleutian Chain, and Bering Sea Islands. The life span of a brown bear averages around 20-25 years in the wild. Females start breeding around 5-7 years old and males slightly older. Each female has 1-4 cubs, and a cub stays with its mother for up to four years. Half of a brown bears life is spent in hibernation between around October and May. Denali National Park and Preserve, and Katmai National Park are great places to view brown bears in Alaska.  Although bear attacks are rare, caution should always be used when traveling in bear country. For information on how to handle bear encounters, please click here.


Female polar bear with two cubs

Polar Bear (Ursus maritimus)
Polar bears are found in the northern regions of Canada, Greenland, Norway, Russia, and northern Alaska. These bears are classified as marine mammals since they depend on the sea for the majority of their food. The favored food of the polar bear is the ringed seal. The bears will wait beside seal breathing holes for hours or even days for a seal to emerge. Polar bears also eat walrus, birds, fish, beached whales, and even other polar bears. Unlike other bears, polar bears do not hibernate over the long cold winters; only pregnant females will den up. The female bears must eat a substantial amount of seal and other food before entering their den in the fall. Polar bears are solitary and are rarely seen with other polar bears unless it is a mother and her cubs or there is a large food source available in the area, such as a beached whale. Polar bears can live up to 18 years but the average life span of a polar bear in the wild is 15 years. They reach reproductive age between 4 to 8 years old, and mothers give birth to one to three cubs in December. Polar bears have one of the slowest reproductive rates of any mammal and only produce about 5 litters in their lifetimes.  Currently, polar bears are being detrimentally affected by the Earth's warming climate and the resultant loss of sea ice. A lot of research is being done on polar bears and what the outcomes might be for them. To learn more about the polar bears lifestyle, click here

A moose
Kent Miller/NPS

Moose (Alces alces)
Moose are the largest member of the deer family, standing a foot taller than the second largest member the elk. Moose are found in most areas of Alaska except for in the Aleutian Islands, southeast Alaska, and around Prince William Sound. Their diet consists mainly of birch, willow, and other trees which they spend a significant amount of  time foraging for. Moose breed in the fall around September and October and calves are born in May or June. Usually one calf is born unless food is plentiful and then moose will frequently give birth to twins. Bull moose drop their antlers in December or January and new antlers begin growing in May. Antler velvet sheds in September in order to prepare the males for the rutting season during which they will compete with other males to gain access to females. Moose antlers grow up to an inch a day, making them the fastest growing organ of any mammal! Moose in Alaska are a popular game animal and are also a very enjoyable part of the wildlife viewing. Although these animals appear to be gentle giants it is always important to remember to respect wildlife by giving them the space they need. Moose are generally relaxed animals but may become irritated if provoked. If you would like to learn more about staying safe around urban wildlife follow the link. More information can also be found at living with moose.

Musk ox braving the wind on the Alaskan tundra.

Musk Ox (Ovibos moschatus)
Musk Ox are an ancient species that once had a distribution that stretched from Urals, Russia all the way to Greenland.  After the Pleistocene/Holocene extinction event, their numbers was greatly reduced. In more recent times, hunting practices and the effects of climate change have further dwindled their numbers. In the late 1800's musk ox were completely eliminated from Alaska and other parts of the world. This drew concerns about the musk ox's possible extinction, which led to a restoration of musk oxen on Nunivak Island, Nelson Island, Seward Peninsula, Cape Thompson, and Kavik. These restoration efforts, along with legislation that was passed to prohibit the hunting of these animals, has greatly increased their populations.  Musk ox are herd animals, sometimes traveling in groups as large as 75 animals. These large numbers provide them with protection from predators. If a predator is detected by the herd, they will gather in a circle with their young placed in the center.  Although this approach is effective against predators such as wolves, it has caused musk ox to be easy targets for humans.  Musk ox are arctic mammals that prefer to live in windy environments where there is not a heavy accumulation of snow on the ground. This low snow accumulation gives musk ox access to foods such as sedges, berries, forbs and other plant material all year long. To keep warm in such windy harsh environments, musk ox have two layers of fur - a long outer layer that almost reaches the ground and a soft under fur called qiviut that is used in the making of hats and scarves by the Inuit people.  If you would like to go see the musk ox for yourself there are a variety of options! Visit the musk ox farm in Palmer Alaska or the Wildlife Refuge, which also has a variety of other Alaskan animals to view.

Sitka black-tailed deer along a lake

Sitka Black-Tailed Deer (Odocoileus hermionus sitkensis)
Sitka black-tailed deer are the only species of deer in the state of Alaska. The range of the Sitka black tailed deer includes all of southeast Alaska as well as Kodiak island. They are herbivores, eating grasses, herbaceous vegetation, shrubs, berries, and sometimes lichen in the winter. During the winter, Sitka black-tailed deer have a very restricted range due to deep snow conditions. In the summer months the deer will move up mountains and expand their range, eating newly sprouted plants as the snow melts. These deer live an average of 10 years and breed primarily between the ages of 5 and 10, producing 2 fawns each year.

Sitka black-tailed deer populations fluctuate greatly in Alaska due to winter severity and predation from animals such as wolves. The logging industry also has a negative effect on deer populations as deer need large areas of old growth forests to effectively survive Alaskan winters.

A dall sheep
Kent Miller/NPS

Dall Sheep (Ovis dalli)
Dall sheep are found in Alaska and northwestern British Columbia and carry the title of being the only wild white sheep in the world! Both the male and female sheep have horns, with the bull's horns being thicker and more deeply curved than the females. Male sheep use their horns to establish dominance, much like other animals that have horns or antlers. Horns are never shed and grow throughout the spring, summer, and fall and cease growth each winter. This pattern results in horns with rings, which can be counted to determine the age of the sheep. The average lifespan of a Dall sheep is about 12 years. Female sheep become sexually mature at the age of three and give birth to one lamb every year. The first winter for a young lamb is the most precarious since access to food is more challenging. Unfortunately for lambs, the mortality rate is rather high at about forty-five percent during that first winter season. The Dall sheep diet consists of grasses and willows in the summer and lichens in the winter. In the winter season, Dall sheep will dig up the snow to access their food. They also use their rocky terrain as mineral licks since many essential minerals are missing from their food sources. Predators of Dall sheep include humans, wolves, bears, lynxes, golden eagles, and wolverines.

Dall sheep are hunted in the state of Alaska during the months of August and September.  The hunt is restricted to only mature males. This hunting experience is not for the inexperienced due to the harsh locations these animals reside in. To learn more about Dall sheep hunting in Alaska, please follow this external link

Caribou with large antlers walking through tall vegetation.

Caribou (Rangifer tarandus)
Caribou, sometimes referred to as "Nomads of the North", are unique because they are the only member of the deer species where both the females and males grow antlers. Antler growth occurs annually for both males and females. Males begin antler growth in the spring time and end in the fall, after which the antlers are shed in winter.  Female antlers begin growing later in the summer and will stay on throughout the winter, being shed in early summer.  During the growth period antlers are covered with a tissue referred to as velvet. This tissue layer provides the growing antler with the nutrients and oxygen necessary for the astonishingly rapid growth. Caribou have several adaptations for surviving in cold northern climates. For example, their hooves are very large relative to their body size and are concave in shape.This shape allows the hooves to function like snowshoes in the winter and like paddles for swimming in the summer. Another adaptation is their hollow hair follicles which help to insulate them against the extreme winter cold. Caribou feed on a variety of plants including shrubs, low lying green plants, and lichens.The distribution of caribou is widespread and covers much of Alaska, with the exception of the Kenai Peninsula, southeastern Alaska, Prince William Sound, and the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta. Caribou are often referred to as migration champions because of the long distances they travel to return to their traditional calving grounds. The largest herd in Alaska, known as the Porcupine herd, can be found in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. This herd travels every year from the coastal plains of northern Alaska all the way to the Yukon to give birth in their traditional calving grounds.  Today caribou are faced with many challenges such as harsh weather conditions, climate change, predation from humans, predation from other predators, and habitat depletion from oil development.

This is a picture of an adult and juvenile mountain goat perched on a cliff.
NPS Photo by Matt Gray

Mountain Goat (Oreamnos americanus)
Mountain goats can be found on mountain ranges in south central and southeast Alaska. These animals are recognizable by their long fur (up to seven inches long!) and black horns. With each year of growth, a ring is added to the mountain goat's horns allowing age to be estimated by counting the rings much like a tree.  Mountain goats and dall sheep are two animals that can easily be confused, but by knowing the key differences they are easily discernable. The mountain goat has black horns and long scraggily hair while Dall sheep will have curved lighter horns and short white fur. The diet of a mountain goat consists of low-lying plants, grasses and shrubs in the summer, and blueberry, hemlock, and lichen in the winter. Mating season occurs in late October to December one kid being born in May or June. Once a kid is born, nannies (female goats) frequently form groups with other kids and nannies, and kids remain with their nannies until the next breeding season and sometimes up to several years beyond this. Mountain goats don't begin breeding until the age of four, and life expectancy is between 12-18 years.

Little brown bat hanging from a rocky ledge.

Little Brown Bat (Myotis lucifugus)
That's right, there are bats in Alaska! A surprising fact for most people is that bats can survive in this cold state, and even more surprising is that there is more than one type of bat to be found here. To date there are five separate species of bats located in Alaska, with all but one found in the southeast region of the state. The five species include the little brown bat, california myotis, big brown batlong legged myotissilver haired bat, and the keens myotis. The farthest northern reaching bat is the little brown bat, with a distribution in Alaska that reaches as far south as Dall Island and as far north as Fairbanks! Currently there is little known about the little brown bat and its life history in Alaska. What we do know is that like many species of bats the little brown bat uses echolocation to hunt for various types of flying insects. For this reason the space above an open lake or stream is the perfect habitat for them to feed.We also know that female bats become sexually mature in their first year and will begin mating in either their first or second years of life. The mating season for bats occurs during the months of September and October, but ovulation and fertilization are delayed until the spring time. Litters are produced in late spring and consist of only one young per female. The little brown bat has a relatively long life span of 10 years with some individuals living as long as 20 to 30 years.  Observations of the little brown bat hibernating in southeast Alaska have been made, but it is still unknown if these bats are migrants from the interior of the state.  Much data still needs to be collected to answer these questions, and scientists are calling upon citizens for help. The Alaska Bat Monitoring Program allows for people all across the state to report their bat sightings. All information will aid scientists in the understanding of population numbers as well as possible migration patterns of the little brown bat. 


Marten peeking out from behind a tree trunk.
USDA Forest Service

Marten (Martes americana)
The American Martens is found in forested areas of the interior, south central, and southeastern regions of Alaska. These animals are similar to ferrets in resemblance and can range from 19-25 inches in length and up to four lb's in weight with female martens being much smaller than males. Their fur is a popular item for fur trappers due to its softness and variety in colors. Martens are territorial animals that utilize a very prominent scent gland to ward off any intruders. Territories can vary in size and are dramatically dependent on food availability. During times of scarcity martens can require up to 15 square miles per animal! Martens prefer to den in cavities of old growth trees and they will also use these cavities to rest. Martens are primarily carnivorous animals that feed primarily on voles but they also eat berries, eggs, carrion, and infrequently red squirrels . Breeding season occurs in the July and August with males usually mating with multiple females within their homerange. In April and May females will give birth to two to four young and young that stay with their mother until the following fall. The marten is very widespread throughout Alaska and thus are not heavily managed. Fur trappers will usually take about 20 to 30 martens a season but some takes are as high as 200 to 300 a season. 

A northern bog lemming in some mossy vegetation
Montana Field Guide

Northern Bog Lemmings (Synaptomys borealis)
With a body measuring just under four inches, bog lemmings are the smallest of all lemmings. They are found in most areas along Alaska's Pacific coast where there are thick and moist grasses or sedges. Lemmings have strong jaws that chew through thick clumps of roots and soil as they burrow into the vegetation and ground, but they eat mainly the green parts of low growing plants and possible snails and slugs. In winter lemmings burrow into the area between the frozen ground and the snow and are rarely seen above. They thrive in arctic climates and are very susceptible to climatic changes that threaten their habitat. Lemming are an important food item for many animals such as snowy owls, arctic fox, peregrine falcon, and weasels. If their populations decline, these other animals are also at risk of decreasing numbers. Lemmings breed from May to August and give birth to litters of two to eight young. Females can produce two or three litters per breeding season!

A red squirrel
Kent Miller/NPS

Red Squirrel (Tamiasciurus hudsonicus)
The red squirrel is a member of the rodent family and is a vocal and acrobatic character that most people have heard chattering in the woods at least once in their life. These animals are highly territorial in nature which is why they can be so vocal. If you hear a squirrel chattering in the woods it is most likely because you have stepped into it's territory and the squirrel is warning you to leave. Once a squirrel has established it's territory, it will start developing what is called a midden. A midden is a storage center for squirrels where they will store thousands of clipped spruce cones for food over the long winter. Among other things that a red squirrel consumes are small mice, baby hares, baby birds, bird eggs, insects, berries, lichens, and green buds. These crafty critters have even been known to drill holes into bird houses to reach bird eggs, as well as nesting baby birds. They spend most of there summer clipping and storing food all day long but do continue to stay active during the winter months as well. If the weather becomes too harsh the squirrels will retreat to one of their dens within their territory to wait it out. These squirrels are approximately 11 to 13 inches long, including their bushy tail, and rusty brown in color with white underbellys. Squirrels mate in February and March and have three to seven young about a month later. The young will remain with their mother for a few months but are independent by their first winter. Red squirrels can be found all across North America in forested areas and in all spruce forests across Alaska. In parts of Alaska, as well as Canada, red squirrel fur is sold for profit and the red squirrel has been known to make a tasty meal. The main predator of the red squirrel is the Goshawk, who finds the red squirrel to be an easy meal since it is rarely quiet and is frequently out in the open.



A hoary marmot walking  through a grassy area.

Hoary Marmot (Marmota caligata)
The hoary marmot is the largest member of the squirrel family. These animals can be over 30 inches long and weigh up to ten pounds. The name hoary comes from its distinct silver and white fur coat. The hoary marmot is found in the rocky mountainous areas of Alaska and south of the Yukon River. The marmot uses this landscape to its advantage to lookout for and hide from predators. When the Hoary Marmot is startled it releases a high pitched whistle that has earned it the name of the "whistler" from early explorers. Marmots live in burrows which are built within their territorial range. In years with abundant food marmots will live in colonies, with several burrows containing multiple marmot families. Marmots are heavy grazers with their diet consisting of grasses, berries, seeds, mosses, lichens, and small flowering plants. During the winter marmots enter into a type of hibernation called torpor that allows them to restrict energy expenditures when food is unavailable. When entering into their hibernation period they will plug up their burrows with various plant materials and dirt to protect themselves from the cold. In Alaska winter can last for nine months, meaning that these squirrels spend most of their lives asleep! Once spring arrives marmots will enter the breeding season in late April and May. Mothers have a gestation period of about a month before giving birth to two to six young. The young remain with their mother for a relatively long period of two to three years.

An orca surfaces
Mary McCormick/NPS

Orca (Orcinus orca)
Orca whales, also known as killer whales, are the largest members of the dolphin family. Orcas live in the North Pacific Ocean surrounding Alaska, mainly near Southeast Alaska through the Aleutian Islands and north into the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas. These whales are toothed whales which allows them to eat their prey items that include fish, octopus, seals, and even other whales. The orca's ability to hunt and strategize within their pods has given this whale their name "killer whale". These whales are extremely intelligent and have drawn fascination from people all over the world inspiring many books and legends. Their are different types of orcas found in Alaska, that include the resident and transient pods. The resident orcas include 18 different pods while there are only two transient pods in the state. Just as there name implies resident orcas will continually go back to the same areas to hunt for prey that consists mainly of fish and squid. While transient pods are not as predictable in there locations and there diet consists almost entirely of marine mammals. Resident orcas are some of the most studied and identified type of orca due to there identifiable markings as well as there specific family calls. Orca whales have very intricate social structures that have been highly studied in some cases. The social structure of resident pods consist of a mother and her descendents. Descendents of the mother will stay with her their entire life only leaving her side for a few hours at a time. With this complex social structure even comes a unique language developed by individual pods that can remain unchanged for several generations. Determining the gender of an orca from a distance can be done by their dorsal fin; the male dorsal fin is more than twice the length of the females and a females is more curved in shape than the males. The reproductive cycles of orcas are not well understood, but females do not become sexually active until around age 15 and then they have young approximately every three to eight years in the wintertime. Newborn orcas are capable of swimming and keeping up with the pod immediately after birth. Orcas are long lived animals with males living up to 50 years and the oldest recorded female being 90 years old!

Beluga with an open mouth at the surface of the water.

Beluga (Delphi leucas)
Belugas are small whales that lack a dorsal fin. Adults are 11 to 15 feet in length and 1000 to 2000 pounds. Belugas do not appear white in color until about the age of five or six.  Prior to that they are dark blue-grey in color. These whales live in Bristol Bay, the Bering Sea, the Chukchi Sea, the Beaufort Sea, and in Cook Inlet. Some belugas have even been seen from Anchorage during our Captain Cook Walking Tours! These whales travel long distances, some up to 1,500 miles during the summer. Belugas are toothed whales, so they eat mainly fish and occasionally other animals like octopus, shrimp, and crabs. These whales are very social animals that travel in small groups of five or six, but can be seen in herds of up to 1,000! They vocalize frequently to communicate as well as to navigate. Belugas breed in March or April, and each breeding female will have one calf in May to July. Calves stay with their mothers for two years before becoming independent. Females thus produce one calf approximately every three years. Belugas also undergo an annual molt which is unlike any other whale species. In July belugas will gather in rocky regions and remove the dead skin layer by rubbing their bodies against the ocean floor. After removal of the dead skin layer new skin is produced 100 times faster than normal! Belugas have been known to be an integral part of subsistence lifestyles for some Alaska native groups for centuries. 

Humpback whale breaching out of the ocean.

Humpback Whale (Magapetera novaeangliae)
Humpback whales spend their summers along the southern coast of Alaska feeding on the rich marine diversity, then in the fall they migrate to locations near Mexico and Hawaii to give birth to their young. Humpback whales are in the family mysticete's, meaning balene whales. Female humpbacks on average are 49 feet long and weigh 79,000 pounds! Male humpback whales are slightly smaller than females. Humpback pectoral flippers are also especially long and can be up to two thirds their body length. While feeding humpback whales will draw a large quantity of water into their throats and as their mouth closes water is forced out through the baleen which traps small arthropods such as krill and shrimp. Humpbacks are very acrobatic whales and are frequently seen throwing their bodies out of the water which is called breaching. Breaching is often performed by male humpback's for courtship and can continue for hours. Vocalizations and songs may also be part of these courtship displays. Humpback songs are unique between different populations. Males are the only ones that sing, and songs last approximately 10-20 minutes. Female Humpbacks give birth in winter to a single calf every one to three years. Individuals can live up to 50 years. The humpback whale has been listed as endangered species due to heavy commercial whaling practices of the past that markedly depleted their numbers. Since heavy regulations and protections have been implemented these whales have been making a gradual comeback. Humback whales are a favorite for vistors and are also heavily researched. Since humpbacks are very acrobatic researchers frequently get the opportunity to make notes of physical characteristics. The fluke of a humpback is unique and different on every whale much like a a fingerprint. Researchers use fluke pictures to create catalogs of humpback whales allowing them to estimate population numbers and various behaviors. 

A sea otter
Kent Miller/NPS

Sea Otter (Enhydra lutris)
Sea otters are an integral part of Alaska's history. Between the years of 1743 and 1799 Russian fur trappers traveled to Alaska to collect valuable pelts to sell. Among the most valued pelts that were sought after was the sea otter fur. Sea otters have the thickest fur of any mammal, averaging around 1,000,000 hairs per square inch. This dense fur provides the otter with the warmth and water resistance that it needs to survive in it's cold water environment. By the end of the Russian fur trade, the sea otter population had been depleted dramatically.  Sea otters became very scarce and protections were put into place to prevent their extinction.  Sea otters are members of the weasel family. Males weigh around 70 to 90 pounds and females 40 to 60. They are social creatures, and often join together in groups called "rafts." Sea otters eat fish and various small invertebrates like crabs and clams. Sea otters catch their prey by diving to the ocean floor and bringing their food up to the surface, where they will float on their backs to enjoy their catch. They are the only animals besides primates that are known to use tools to eat, since they occasionally use a rock to crack open hard shells. Sea otters can be seen along the coast of Alaska, and rarely, if ever set foot on land. The best place to see sea otters is at Kenai Fjords National Park, though sea otters have been seen off the beaches of Seward and Homer. Sea otters mate throughout the year, but in Alaska most pups are born in late spring. Each female has one pup that she carries on her chest as she floats on her back. Pups stay with their mother for up to one year. Sea otters are hunted by native Alaskan subsistence hunters and are also extremely susceptible to human caused pollution, such as oil spills.

The Alaska Sea Life Center Stranding Network is an organization the works to respond to and rescue stranded marine life through the help of volunteers. To see the Alaska Sea Life Center Stranding Network in action please watch this video!  To learn more about sea otters, listen to our podcast about these playful creatures here (mp3).

River otter on two legs next to a stream.

River Otter (Lutra canadensis)
River otters are found across most of Alaska with the exception of the Aleutian Islands and areas well above the Arctic Circle. River otters are one of the larger member of the weasel family, with an adult male weighing in at up to 35 pounds and measuring 40 to 60 inches long. River otters have a very thick undercoat covered with long guard hairs. They are excellent swimmers and can swim at about 6 miles per hour, and they are also agile on land and can run as fast as a human. Like sea otters, river otters are playful with their environment and with other otters. They create a wide variety of vocalizations that seem to be a form of communication, and they also craft complicated tunnels and dens in the wintertime. Fish make up the bulk of a river otters diet, though other small invertebrates, frogs, birds, and small mammals may also be consumed. Breeding season is in May, and river otters give birth to between one and six pups at once after a period of 9 to 13 months. Pups remain with their mother until the next litter is born. Following that time the litter may remain together without her, or form another type of social group, such as a group of bachelor male otters.

A Steller sea lion asleep on a rock
Kent Miller/NPS

Steller Sea Lion (Eumetopias jubatus)
Steller sea lions can be found along coastal areas of southern Alaska and around the Aleutian Islands. Steller sea lions are the largest eared seal, weighing in at up to 2,400 pounds! Females are almost half the size as the males, averaging 580 pounds and 1,250 pounds respectively. Sea lions feed on a variety of fish, octopus, crab, shrimp, and other various marine invertebrates. Although sea lions can travel long distances, most remain around a central location they return to in order to haulout. In the summer this location is often offshore, and in winter it is in a more protected onshore area. Bull sea lions will take up many female partners during breeding season. If a bull enters another bull's territory, the two will fight until one animal is the clear winner. Breeding occurs in June with birth happening the following year, also in June. A single pup is born to each mother and stays with their mother from one to three years. Pups don't enter the water until a month after birth. Reproductive rates are relatively low amongst sea lions, since pups have a high mortality rate, and only three quarters of cows give birth each year. Stellar sea lions are currently declining for unknown reasons and hunting of sea lions is reserved for only Native Alaskans.

Pacific walrus on the beach.

Pacific Walrus (Odobenus rosmarus)
Walrus belong to the pinniped family, along with sea lions and seals. They are found mainly in the shallow waters along the coast of the Bering and Chukchi Seas. These walrus migrate to the north in the spring and then back south in the fall. Walruses were hunted in the past for their ivory tusks, which are really just long canine teeth. Tusks are used in fighting, maneuvering on land and ice, or in very rare instances as a tool to break ice, but not during feeding. A bull walrus can weigh up to two tons, with females getting up to half that size. On their upper necks walruses have air pouches that help keep them afloat while they're sleeping and help them vocalize. Walrus eat marine invertebrates like snails or clams that live on the bottom of the ocean floor. Walruses find these types of food by brushing the sea floor with their whiskers, and then ingest it through use of their thick tongue. Mating occurs in January and February and calves are born approximately 15 months later. Walruses calves have strong bonds with their parents, and a mother will reproduce only in alternate years. The age of a walrus can be determined by the number of rings in a cross section of its teeth. Walrus are hunted by native Alaskan subsistence hunters, and their skin is used for boats, intestines for raincoats, and ivory for various tools and decorations. The loss of summer sea ice as a result of climate change could have dramatic effects on walrus since they need ice to rest and feed.

Large group of adult and young northern fur seals

Northern Fur Seal (Callorhinus ursinus)
The northern fur seal is in the eared seal family, along with the sea lion. With 350,000 hairs per square inch, the fur seal's dense and waterproof underfur is the reason for their name. Fur seals live in the southern waters of Alaska, and as far north as the Pribilof Islands in the Bering Sea. The Pribilofs are only 77 square miles in size, but 80% of the entire fur seal population breeds on these islands. The fur seal diet revolves around mainly fish, with herring and smelt as their favorites. To acquire their food, these seals fish at night and make dives of up to 600 feet deep. Male northern fur seals migrate up to the Pribilof Islands in May to establish their breeding territory, and already pregnant females join the males in June. Within two days of their arrival, each pregnant female will give birth to one pup and then mate again within a week of that birth. Cows will spend the next three months nursing her pup, and her pup only. After nursing, the pups will be independent. Come November, the majority of fur seals will leave the Pribilof Islands. Females and young males will undertake a lengthy migration to the waters off the coast of California, while adult males remain in the waters along the Alaskan coast. Fur seals were exploited commercially for almost 200 years, until commercial harvesting was eliminated in 1985. However, the northern fur seal population continues to decline, today's numbers are less than 50% of the 1950 population.

A harbor seal rests on floating ice.
Kent Miller/NPS

Harbor Seal (Phoca vitulina)
Harbor seals are known as "true seals". Unlike fur seals, harbor seals lack a dense fur covering and do not have ears. They also lack the ability to lift their belly from the ground, though they do have claws which help them move around on the ice. Harbor seals can be found along the coast of southern Alaska, and there is even a group of harbor seals that live in Lake Illiamna, making them the only freshwater seals in Alaska! Harbor seals spend most of their time in the water, especially in winter. However, during breeding and molting seasons, harbor seals spend a great deal of time on land in large groups at their favorite haul-out sites. A seal's diet consists mainly of a wide variety of seasonally available fish such as cod, pollock, salmon, and even octopus and squid. Females become sexually mature at age three to seven, and give birth to pups in May to July. Pups stay near their mothers for only one month before becoming independent. Harbor seals are long-lived and can live to be about thirty years old, though female seals live longer than male seals. Harbor seals, like many other marine mammals, depend upon ice for haul-out breeding and resting sites. Therefore, climate change, as well as other factors are responsible for the current decline in the harbor seal population around most of Alaska.

A wolves' face.
Kent Miller/NPS

Wolf (Canis lupus)
Wolves inhabit much of mainland Alaska, with the exception of around Prince William Sound and some areas of southeast. There are two subspecies of wolves in the state of Alaska with one of them residing in the northern region and interior Alaska and the other residing in southeast Alaska. The southern species of wolf tend to be more numerous and are also smaller in stature than there northern counterpart. The main prey item for wolves in the southeast Alaska is the sitka black tailed deer which sustains a larger population of wolves than the northern regions. Wolves as a whole in Alaska have a diverse diet, with a need to eat four to seven pounds of food per day in order to maintain health. To meet this daily requirement wolves will eat things as small as a mouse and as large as a moose. Although they have a daily requirement wolves are capable of survive periods of up to a month without food by gorging themselves on large kills. Wolves are highly social animals that usually live in packs of around five to seven animals but may be seen in packs as large as thirty. Smaller packs usually consist of one mating pair and the offspring. If the pack is larger in size it is likely that there is more than one mating pair in the pack. Wolves are monogamous animals, once a mating pair is established they mate for life until one of them dies and than a new pair is established. The exception to this is if a male wolf does not have a female wolf available to pair with they will mate with already paired females. These males are referred to as casanovas in reference to their lack of monogamy.  Wolves reach sexual maturity at about the age of years but will wait for favorable conditions before bearing a litter. Pups are born in the spring time in litters of up to five. 

An arctic fox blends in with a snowy background.

Arctic Fox (Alopex lagopus)
Arctic foxes live on the northern and western coasts of Alaska, as well as on some islands on the Aleutian Islands. The coat on arctic foxes change depending on the season. In summer the coat ranges from brown to a rust color; winter turns the coat white. Arctic foxes are carnivorous scavengers feeding on small rodents, birds and their eggs, and hares. They have been know to follow polar bears and eat the remains of the bear's kill. A female arctic fox will give birth to around eight pups in March or April. Five months later, the pup becomes fully independent and takes off from its parents. The population of arctic foxes depends on how much food is in the given area. Where there's lots of hunting, arctic foxes are difficult to find, for the gunshots scare them away.

A red fox looks at the photographer
Kent Miller/NPS

Red Fox (Vulpes vulpes)
Red foxes are found everywhere in Alaska except for the panhandle, and further out Aleutian Islands. The coat of the fox often depends on the habitat; foxes with dark brown coats tend to live in forests. Hares, eggs, mice, and plant matter are the staples in a fox's diet. Foxes, much like dogs, will dig a hole and cache their food for later consumption. In February or March, red foxes will den and mate in a dry hill, often digging 15-20 feet deep. Pups are born fifty-three days later. A usual litter consist of four pups. The pup will be blind for the first eight days. The mother will teach her pups how to hunt in the late summer before the pups leave their mother in fall.

A wolverine walks across a snowy area.

 Wolverine (Gulo gulo)
The wolverine has a well known reputation for being a ferocious land predator for a relatively small animal. Wolverines on average weigh between 25 to 35 pounds and are between three to four feet in length making them the largest member of the weasel family. Their scientific name Gulo gulo is Latin for glutton which is in reference to their opportunistic and voracious feeding strategy. Wolverines will eat anything from berries, to carrion from other predators and have been known to take down prey several times their size.Wolverines can be found all over Alaska with the exception of islands such as the Aleutian chain. Although these animals are well dispersed across Alaska they are not commonly seen. They prefer habitats with wide open spaces far from populated areas, which is why they are still persistent in Alaska. The wolverine also has a relatively low reproductive rate with litters of only about 1 to 2 kits every other year. 

A lynx is well camouflaged in the brushy forest understory.
Kent Miller/NPS

Lynx (Lynx canadensis)
The is lynx the only cat species native to the state of Alaska and can be found in every region of the state with the exception of the Aleutian islands, Kodiak archipelago, the islands of the Bering Sea and some islands of Prince William Sound and Southeast Alaska. These felines are carnivores primarily subsisting on the fluctuating snowshoe hare population. The lynx and the snowshoe hare population are so closely tied that decreases in hare populations actually lead to decreases in lynx populations as well. This connection allows biologists to predict when the lynx population will begin to decrease so stricter management policies can be implemented during these periods of decline. 

Lynx are very adept hunters, and like most felines have excellent vision that they use to ambush prey. They are also very agile and quick movers which is imperative when hunting fast moving prey such as the snowshoe hare. Their paws are very wide and splay out when walking, allowing them to work like snowshoes while moving over the snowy terrain.

Reproduction for the lynx occurs annually with kittens being born during the months of May and June. Kittens will stay with their mother an average of eight to ten months before becoming skilled enough to hunt on their own. Females become reproductively active at one year of age, but will delay reproduction until the snowshoe hare population is large enough to sustain a new litter. Litter size ranges between one to four kittens, with the kitten eyes staying closed for the first month.

Lynx are actively trapped in Alaska and are economically one of the most important fur bearers in the state. Non-human predators of the lynx include wolves, bears, and cougars.The status of the Canadian lynx species is of least concern in Alaska because of their widespread and abundant population numbers.

A snowshoe hare attempting to cross a roadway.
Kent Miller/NPS

Snowshoe Hare (Lepus americanus)
The snowshoe hare is the most common and widespread of the two types of hares found in Alaska. With a distribution that covers almost all of the state, except for the lower Kuskokwim Delta, Alaska Peninsula, and areas north of the Brooks Range, both species of hare are part of the family Leporidae and are commonly referred to as rabbits, although this is incorrect. Newborn hares are born with fur and with eyes open while newborn rabbits are born hairless and blind. As adults they can be further distinguished from rabbits by their large back feet ,which is what they are named for. As adults they are about 18 - 20 inches in length and can weigh about 3 to 4 pounds. In the summer the snowshoe hare is a rusty brown with medium sized ears and a white underbelly. In the winter their fur turns white, which provides camouflage to hide from predators.  They retain black tips on each ear which are useful identification aids when trying to distinguish between the more common snowshoe hare and the Alaska hare, which does not have black tipped ears. Snowshoe hares are an important food source for Alaska’s predators, including humans.They are also popular with small game hunters who target them for sport and for their fur. Hunters must be cautious when handling snowshoe hare and need to cook the meat thoroughly as these animals are prone to diseases such as tularemia.

A beaver huddles in a grassy area.

Beaver (Castor canadensis)
The beaver is the largest rodent found in North America weighing between 24 and 71 pounds and averaging about 3 to 4 feet in length. Beavers will grow continuously throughout their life. The larger the beaver the older it may be. As many people know, beavers make their home from mud and surrounding wood materials.  These dome shaped homes cause pooling of water which creates a calm area for the beavers to store food in. Beavers are herbivores subsisting on aquatic plants, roots, and grasses. Beavers will stay in one location until surrounding resources are exhausted, then they will relocate. Beavers can be a subject of conflict for many due to their impacts on their surroundings when building their dens. Beavers mate for life with the mating period occurring in January and February and kits being born from April to June. The kits remain with the adults for two years before becoming independent. 

Porcupine near a creek.

Porcupine (Erethizon dorsatum)
The North American porcupine is the second largest rodent in North America, second only to the beaver. The porcupines weight averages between 15-18 pounds but they have been recorded weighing up to 30 pounds. Porcupines breed in the fall, with the mother giving birth to one porcupet after a rather long gestation period of 210 days. The porcupet will stay with the mother throughout the summer before becoming independent. Porcupines are rather slow movers when on the ground but are very agile tree climbers. These animals can afford to move slowly since they are protected from predators by a body covered in quills. It is commonly thought that porcupines have the ability to shoot their quills at predators but fortunately, this is a myth. Porcupine quills are only held loosely on their bodies and thus are removed easily if brushed up against. The quills are also equipped with one-way barbs that allow them to be easily embedded but difficult to remove. The North American porcupine is an herbivore feeding mostly on the inner bark of spruce and aspen in the winter and young leaves in the spring. Due to a lack of sodium in their diet porcupines use roadways as salt licks. Unfortunately this causes a high percentage of porcupine fatalities.

 Check out this website by the Smithsonian to see the exact range of species in Alaska!

Polar Bear Research on the Chukchi Sea

Note: This Embedded video resides on the official U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service YouTube channel

Arial view of Mount St Elias rising above the clouds. The landscape is the deep blues and blush pinks of an early morning sunrise. Did You Know?
Wrangell-St Elias National Park & Preserve is part of the world's largest internationally protected area and contains North America's largest assemblage of glaciers and its greatest collection of peaks over 16,000 feet.