In addition to claiming half the world’s glaciers, three million lakes, and 33 species of mosquitoes, the majestic state of Alaska provides a home for many animals that are endangered elsewhere including the grizzly bear, humpback whale, bald eagle, and wolf.
Your cruise will put you up close and personal with countless representatives of Alaska’s 430 species of birds, and you might even catch a glimpse of the largest carnivorous land mammal in the world: the brown bear.
Alaska offers a thrilling and tremendous privilege to observe wild animals in their natural environment.While you’re unlikely to get up close and personal with any of these majestic creatures, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game advises that maintaining awareness of the abundant presence of bears, moose, and wolves is essential.
Plus when you tell friends you spotted a moose on the trail and they ask “what did you do?” you’ll have a good answer, even if it was miles away!
Beautiful Moose Country
Did you know that moose are the largest member of the deer family? Males can weigh as much as 1,600 pounds, and even a calf reaches 400 pounds by its first winter.
Although they look endearing as they munch on the aspens and willows growing throughout most of Alaska’s mainland, it’s important to take the unpredictable moose seriously by maintaining a safe distance. The males can be aggressive toward humans during the stressful fall mating season, and the females will defend young calves in the spring and summer months if provoked.
- If you get too close to a moose and observe the ears laid back, the long hairs on its hump raising up, and lip-licking, back away slowly.
- Take cover behind a tree, car, fence, or building if possible.
- If the moose executes a “bluff” charge in warning, unlike with bears, it’s safe to run from a moose because they typically won’t give chase.
Never feed a moose.
Not only is it illegal, it predisposes the moose to expect food from humans and leads to aggression when food is not forthcoming. “A moose with a history of unprovoked attacks will likely be shot by enforcement officers to protect public safety.” Feeding a moose hurts the animal rather than helping it.
Alaska residents cohabitate with wolves in over 85 percent of the state’s land. Although wolves rarely act aggressively toward humans, it’s smart to always keep your eyes peeled for that great photo and to be aware of your surroundings!
Remember — in Alaska, the “wilderness” is often only a few feet away.
If you have wandered too far out on the trails and have a close encounter with a wolf:
- Do not turn your back or run away. If you are with a companion, stand back-to-back and slowly move away from the wolf.
- Maintain eye contact if the wolf is looking at you.
- If the wolf approaches, move toward the animal and make loud noises such as shouting or clapping hands.
- Use fishing poles, rocks, limbs, noisemakers, or other items to discourage wolves.
- Use bear spray, pepper spray, or firearms if necessary.
- Climb a tree if possible; wolves cannot follow you up a tree.
Alaska boasts approximately 30,000 bears. Here you’ll find all three species of North American bears thriving. The smaller brown bears, or “grizzlies”, are found in the state’s interior, while the coastal brown bears that feast on spawning salmon are much larger in size.
Kodiak brown bears are found exclusively on the islands surrounding and including Kodiak Island.Polar bears are actually classified as marine mammals because they scour the sea ice for their food source. Males can reach 1,700 pounds and 10 feet in length. The black bears that reside in most of Alaska’s forests are typically much smaller than brown bears and polar bears.
Aggressive bear encounters are rare, almost always easily avoided and highly unlikely unless you’ve backpacked out into the wilderness to camp. These naturally shy animals would prefer to avoid you, but if you do surprise a bear while out on a trail:
- Stay back, and never corner them.
- Back away slowly, preferably in the direction you came. Don’t run.
- Give the bear lots of space to make an easy retreat. Most will flee.
- If the bear approaches, make noise by yelling to scare the bear.
- If you’re with others, stand close together.
- Stand tall and look the bear in the eye.
- If you have bear spray, point the nozzle just above the bear’s head, and give it a long blast.
Dangerous encounters with Alaska’s wildlife are extremely rare, but now you have some fun new tips and knowledge to share when you return home…who doesn’t love to spice up their vacation stories just a bit!
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