Alaska is recognized as one of the most unique places on the globe in terms of wildlife. The state’s remote location and treacherous climate may be uncomfortable for humans, but a number of different animals have been able to thrive among its cold winters. Additionally, due to the fact that much of Alaska is sparsely inhabited, much of the state’s wildlife has been able to exist without having to contend with pollution, urbanization, and other problems brought by human development. If you’re planning a visit to the Alaskan Interior, you may be wondering exactly what types of animals you can expect to see.
While most people know about moose, caribou, and polar bears, Alaska is home to a massive array of wildlife that can’t be found anywhere else in the world. Read on to learn about the types of wildlife you might see on a trip to the Alaskan Interior.
Wildlife of the Alaskan Interior
Much of Alaska’s Interior lies within or close to the Arctic Circle, presenting a number of unique obstacles and issues that wildlife must adapt to in order to survive. The extremely cold temperatures and snowfall in interior Alaska means that any animals that hope to survive there must be able to survive the vagaries of the harsh environment. This has led to wildlife in the region evolving a number of characteristics that allow them to stay safe and healthy.
One of the most defining characteristics of Alaskan wildlife is their ability to conserve heat in cold weather. This comes in the form of thick fur or feather coats that cover their bodies, tiny orifices (mouth, nose, ears, and so on) that minimize heat loss, and significant amounts of body fat that allow the body to keep in warmth and store up energy. Another notable feature among Alaskan wildlife is color-changing fur, which allows them to stay camouflaged whether it is cold or warm out.
In addition to physical features, Alaskan wildlife have a number of adaptive behaviors in the face of seasonal shifts. One of the most common is hibernation, a process where animals sleep during the winter months in order to store energy and avoid the coldest parts of the year. Another common behavior is migration, with some animals journeying between different parts of the state during different times of the year to mate, hunt for food, or simply stay warm.
Perhaps the most famous animal of Alaska is the polar bear. Traditionally making their habitats on icebergs in the Arctic Ocean, polar bears are distinguished by their fur, which is clear-colored but appears white to the human eye. Polar bears are some of the largest land animals in the world; males are capable of growing over eight feet tall and weighing more than 1,500 pounds. Polar bears subsist off of fish and seals and are known for being talented swimmers; some polar bears have been observed swimming for more than 50 miles in a single outing.
Another famous Alaskan animal is the musk ox, believed to be a surviving remnant of the Pleistocene era. Musk oxen are strongly associated with hunter-gatherer cultures and have been hunted by humans for millennia, with their meat being eaten for sustenance, their hides used to make leather and clothing, and their bones used for tool-making. Musk oxen possess massive, thick coats that make them look larger than they actually are, though regardless, they are some of the largest mammals in the world; males can weigh up to 900 pounds.
Arctic foxes are another common sight in Alaska. While they appear similar to the more common red fox, Arctic foxes possess white fur coats, smaller, more rounded ears, and smaller muzzles. One of the smaller animals in Alaska, male Arctic foxes weigh around eight pounds on average. In contrast to other Arctic mammals, Arctic foxes are active at all times of the year and don’t hibernate; during the winter, their coats become noticeably larger and fluffier.
Another Alaskan animal that outsiders might recognize is the Arctic hare. In contrast to hares from more temperate regions, Arctic hares are quite large and can weigh up to 11 pounds, an evolutionary adaptation for the cold northern winters. Unlike southern hares, Arctic hares also possess longer fur coats and smaller ears. They are also known as capable fighters, able to defend against all threats save for wolves, and humans in the Arctic have historically used them as a source of meat and fur for clothing.
Anyone who knows who Santa Claus is knows about reindeer, who are known for prowling the rural regions of Alaska. These large herbivores are distinguished by their brilliant fur coats; while reindeer are traditionally thought of as having brown fur, they can also have olive- or white-colored coats. Reindeer possess flat hooves, a novelty among mammals of its type and an adaptation that allows them to travel easily across both snow and earth. Reindeer primarily eat twigs, leaves, and lichens. Moose and caribou are also common sights in Alaska.
Alaska is home to over one hundred different bird species, but due to its cold winter weather, only a handful can reside in the state year-round. Among these species are snowy owls, gyrfalcons, gulls, redpolls, ravens, guillemots, and more. Bald eagles, the national symbol of the U.S., can also be seen in Alaska during periods of warm weather.
Along the Alaskan coasts, you may also get to see walruses. These noble sea-creatures are easily recognizable by their massive tusks, which they use for both land navigation and defending themselves against predators. Walruses are among the largest mammals in the world, with males able to reach 3,700 pounds in size. Walruses primarily hunt fish and are noted for living in massive herds that are segregated by sex except during mating season.
Alaska is also known as a prime spot for whale watching. A large number of whale species only reside in Alaska for part of the year, migrating there to forage during the warmer months. However, you can find narwhals, bowheads, and belugas in the state’s coastal waters all year long. You can easily spot whales in the ocean in areas with little boating activity.
A final animal you can easily see in Alaska is seals. The most common seals in the state are bearded, harp, and ringed seals, and the latter are a favorite target of polar bears. Seals typically live alone and reside in areas with heavy sea ice. To breathe underwater, they often use their heads to break open thin ice to create breathing holes.
It’s impossible to list every type of Alaskan wildlife in a single article, but this overview should give you an idea of the wondrous animals you can witness during an Alaskan vacation. Note that depending on what time of the year you visit Alaska, you may not be able to see some of these creatures due to migration and hibernation patterns. However, no matter what time of the year you visit Alaska, you can be assured that you will see some of the most amazing and unique animals that the planet has to offer.