During your Alaskan expedition, you’ll enjoy myriad opportunities to meet the locals — but we’re not talking about people, here. In Alaska, the “locals” are wildlife, everything from elk to bald eagles, beavers to whales. Of course, Mother Nature is unpredictable, so of this state’s 112 mammal species and 521 bird species, nothing is certain except that your encounters are sure to be unforgettable.
Pacific white-sided dolphins
These beloved mammals, known for their grayish-white coloring on their undersides, are playful and highly social. These dolphins have been known to travel in schools numbering into the thousands, but typically travel in smaller groups of 10 to 100. Playful, curious, and a joy to observe, Pacific white-sided dolphins can often be found swimming near the bow of a ship, as well as jumping, somersaulting, and pirouetting in the air!
Brown and black bears
Brown bears are one of Alaska’s most common bear, often called grizzly bears. They’re smaller and lighter in color, but still massive — up to 1,500 pounds! They gather in large numbers at feeding sites where salmon is plentiful, though as omnivores they’ll eat anything. With a population estimated to be nearly 100,000, black bears are the state’s other most common bear, and one of the smallest, weighing up to 350 pounds.
One of the least studied animals of North America, mountain goats are large and white-furred with black horns. They mostly feast on shrubs and berries and they make sure-footed climbers, able to ascend slippery and uneven terrain. For this reason, they’re the largest mammals found in their high-altitude habitats, and mountain goats spend more of their time grazing.
Caribou and reindeer
Stately caribou are often confused with reindeer, which are the same species, but not the same animal. Caribou are found in North America and Greenland and have never been domesticated, while reindeer were domesticated in Europe and Asia nearly 2,000 years ago. Caribou are the only members of the deer family in which both sexes grow antlers, and they maintain herbivore diets.
Alaskan moose are the largest moose of all! These imposing beasts maneuver somewhat awkwardly, but they can run up to 35 mph and can swim at 6 mph for up to two hours. Males often joust using their large antlers during breeding season, and they’re quite visible in summertime, when they forage for aquatic plants in waterways. Sometimes, they’re even spotted in urban zones or moseying down city streets!
Related to sheep and goats more than oxen, the musk ox is an Arctic hoofed mammal found only in Arctic regions. Musk ox have been around for more than 600,000 years, and males emit a strong odor during mating season — hence their name. These herbivores can tower above five feet in height and can weigh up to 800 pounds.
Alaska is home to a whopping 14 whale species, and you’re likely to encounter at least a few, including the humpback, sperm, minke, and fin. Other whale varieties include Baird’s beaked, beluga, blue, bowhead, Cuvier’s beaked, gray, killer, North Pacific right, sei, and Stejneger’s beaked.
These furry darlings live in shallower waters along the North Pacific and are often found floating or swimming on their backs while grooming, sleeping, or eating. Found in groups called rafts, sea otters only occasionally venture ashore where you may find them using rocks as tools to crack open shellfish!