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Animals in Alaska

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Venture into the wild and discover which animals inhabit Alaska’s expansive landscape. While you’re there, learn fun facts about each species and find out what makes them perfect for living in such a dynamic environment.

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Perhaps one of the most recognizable species known to live in Alaska, the gray wolf are larger than other wolves in Eurasia and have thick and dense fur. Northern wolves have winter fur that is very resistant to cold temperatures (-40) and it doesn't collect ice when warm breath is on it.

Gray wolves have highly developed tracking abilities and an acute sense of hearing. Many Northern wolves live in packs, whereas Southern wolves tend to live in smaller groups or pairs, with time spent alone. Wolves eat hooved mammals and rodents, but some biologists have noted that in Alaska they eat salmon too.

Humans and bears are predators of wolves. Bears in Alaska only eat young wolves or attack in food or territory disputes. The International Union for Conservation of Nature categorizes the species as "Least Concern," meaning that the wolves numbers are stable and not threatened, but are monitored for endangerment.

Source: Alaska Department of Fish & Game

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Many seals live in Alaska. Harbor seals, ice seals and Northern fur seals inhabit the chilly waters surrounding the state. Harbor seals primarily live on the coast from Dixon Entrance, to Kuskokwim Bay and throughout the Aleutian Islands. Most seal pups are born from May to mid-July.

Seals in Alaska, like the harbor seal, typically eat walleye pollock, Pacific cod, capelin, eulachon, Pacific herring, sandlance, Pacific salmon, sculpin, flounder, sole, octopus, and squid. The seal pictured above, is a ribbon seal. According to the Alaska Department of Fish & Game:

"Ribbon seals are the rarest and most elusive of the ice seals and in waters adjacent to Alaska they occur mainly in the Bering Sea where they are found in the open sea in summer and in the pack ice in winter. The term ice seal refers to four seal species in Alaska that depend upon ice for feeding, resting, and pupping."

Predators for seals vary on their geography. For ice seals, polar bears, killer whales, eagles, hunters and gulls are primary threats. For harbor seals, they fall prey to killer whales, sea lions and sharks, along with land predators wolves, bears and coyotes.

Source: Alaska Department of Fish & Game

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Martens are hotblooded, carnivorous animals that live in Southeast Alaska. They are considered part of the weasel family, with soft, yet dense fur. They are very common in Alaska, feeding on small rodents like mice.

These animals like to burrow and climb trees, so they also like to eat small birds, eggs and berries. They mainly live alone unless they are mating or have young. Martens usually have about three offspring in a litter.

Martens are typically very brave creatures and have been known to steal sweet foods from humans. According to the Wildlife Notebook, they really like jam.

Source: Alaska Department of Fish & Game

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Bison are the largest animals native to North America. They grow between 6-10 feet tall and weigh more than 2,000 pounds. There are two species of North American Bison, the plains and wood bison. Wood bison are larger, but are in danger. Plains bison originally lived in the U.S. and Canada, but have been moved to Alaska.

Bison like to graze. They eat grasses, silverberry, willow, and dwarf birch. They tend to like meadows and land near rivers and lakes. Most bison migrate by season, so they need a large habitat where they can move as herds or on their own.

For thousands of years wood bison lived in Interior and Southcentral Alaska. A couple hundred years ago the species began to deplete. Since then, biologists have moved plains bison from Canada and the U.S. to live in Alaska where they have space to roam and grow their numbers. Wild and domestic bison are increasing.

Zoologists hope that more wood bison will populate in Canada, where they are under protection, and they will be able to return to their original population and location in Alaska.

Source: Alaska Department of Fish & Game

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The red fox is a member of the dog family, resembling a smaller version of other canines like wolves, dogs and coyotes. The species is characterized by its red fur, white tail and black feet. They have a diverse diet, eating rodents, birds, eggs, insects and vegetation. Red fox are typically about 22 to 32 inches long with a 14 to 16-inch tail. They weigh anywhere from six to 15 pounds.

Typically, red fox live in dens burrowed underground or in the side of a knoll, a small grassy hill. They are also known to live in old wolf dens. Many red fox live in diverse regions in Alaska. Some even reside in areas populated by humans.

Red fox are quite smart creatures, evidenced by phrases like "sly as a fox." This quality has made them popular game for hunters and trappers because of the challenge. Fox fur was also very popular to wear in the 1920's. Pelts were valuable and could be sold for $500 each at the time.

Source: Alaska Department of Fish & Game

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There are three types of bears found in Alaska: Polar bears, black bears and Kodiak bears. For information about polar bears, please see our feature on this species. Black bears are the most common North American bear. They live in most parts of Alaska except for the Seward Peninsula and areas like the Kodiak region, where the "Alaskan Grizzly" or Kodiak bear claims home.

Like their name black bears have black fur and are the smallest of the bear species. They are about a meter tall and weigh between 180-200 pounds. Kodiak bears are much larger, with brown fur. These brown bears can weigh up to 1,500 pounds during peak periods of the season. When on all fours, Kodiak are about five feet tall; standing, they can reach 10 feet.

Both species eat out of opportunity and feed on vegetation, small animals and fish. Kodiak bears are known to prey on Pacific salmon, but they also eat seaweed and invertebrates on beaches due to their coastal locations. Black bears have been known to eat berries, insects and moose calves in addition to their other range of foods.

Source: Alaska Department of Fish & Game

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As you can see from the photograph, moose are interesting looking creatures. Male moose, or bulls, have antlers and weigh 1,200 to 1,600 pounds. Female moose weigh 800 to 1,300 pounds. Biologically, they are part of the deer family. In Alaska, the Alaska-Yukon species of moose are the largest in the world.

Moose eat large amounts of vegetation, from willow, birch, and aspen twigs, to grasses. They migrate seasonally, traveling up to 60 miles. These large, interesting animals enjoy living near areas with lower brush and near rivers. Though moose are widely spread across Alaska, they are predominant in Southcentral and Interior Alaska.

Source: Alaska Department of Fish & Game

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Caribou are another member of the deer family, but they tend to live in the arctic tundra, mountain tundra and forests in the north of Alaska. They travel in large herds in search of food, feasting on different types of vegetation like mushrooms, moss, willow, birch, flowering tundra plants and small bushes.

There are many wild herds of caribou in Alaska. Some estimate there are about 32 separate large herds in addition to many smaller ones. According the the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, about 22,000 caribou are hunted and killed each year. The Department estimates there are about 900,000 caribou despite the hunting and displacement of caribou due to the oil industry.

Source: Alaska Department of Fish & Game

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