Wildlife of Alaska

The wildlife of Alaska is diverse and abundant. This article gives information on a selection of the most well-known animal species in Alaska.

Mammals

"For a complete list of mammals in Alaska, see List of Alaska mammals"

Brown bear

Alaska contains about 98% of the U.S. brown bear population and 70% of the total North American population. Brown bears can be found throughout the state, with the minor exceptions of the islands west of Unimak in the Aleutians, the islands south of Frederick Sound in southeast Alaska, and the islands in the Bering Sea.Alaska Department of Fish & Game. [http://www.adfg.state.ak.us/pubs/notebook/biggame/brnbear.php "Brown Bear."] 2005-5-23. Retrieved on February 6, 2007.] Most brown bears in Alaska are grizzly bears (the subspecies of brown bear found throughout North America), but Kodiak Island is home to Kodiak bears, another subspecies of brown bear that is the largest type of bear in the world. The brown bear is the top predator in Alaska.

The density of brown bear populations in Alaska varies according to the availability of food, and in some places is as high as one bear per square mile. Alaska’s McNeil River Falls has one of the largest brown bear population densities in the state.

Brown bears can be dangerous if they are not treated with respect. Between the years 1998 and 2002, there were an average of 14.6 brown bear attacks per year in the state. [from [http://www.absc.usgs.gov/research/brownbears/attacks/images/attacks_by_species.gifchart] in http://www.absc.usgs.gov/research/brownbears/attacks/bear-human_conflicts.htm] Brown bears are most dangerous when they have just made a fresh kill, and when a sow has cubs. [Smith, Tom S. & Herrero, Steven. [http://www.absc.usgs.gov/research/brownbears/attacks/bear-human_conflicts.htm "A Century of Bear-Human Conflict in Alaska: Analyses & Implications."] 2003-9-22. Retrieved February 8, 2007.]

Black bear

The black bear is much smaller than the brown bear. They are found in larger numbers on the mainland of Alaska, but are not found on the islands off of the Gulf of Alaska and the Seward Peninsula.Alaska Department of Fish & Game. [http://www.adfg.state.ak.us/pubs/notebook/biggame/blkbear.php "Black Bear."] 2005-5-23. Retrieved on February 6, 2007.] Black bears have been seen in Alaska in a few different shades of colors such as black, brown, cinnamon, and even a rare blue shade. They are widely scattered over Alaska, and pose more of a problem to humans because they come in close contact with them on a regular basis. They are considered a nuisance because they frequently stroll through local towns, camps, backyards, and streets because of their curiosity and easy food sources such as garbage.

Polar bear

Alaska’s polar bear populations are concentrated along its Arctic coastlines. In the winter, they are most common in the Kuskokwim Delta, St. Matthew Island, and at the southernmost portion of St. Lawrence Island. During the summer months, they migrate to the coastlines of the Arctic Ocean and the Chukchi Sea.Alaska Department of Fish & Game. [http://www.adfg.state.ak.us/pubs/notebook/marine/polarbea.php "Polar Bear."] 2005-5-23. Retrieved on February 8, 2007] There are two main polar bear populations in Alaska. The Chukchi population is found off in the western part of Alaska near the Wrangell Islands, and the Beaufort Sea population is located near Alaska’s North Slope.

Until the late 1940s, polar bears were hunted almost exclusively for subsistence by Inupiats and dogs teams, though from the late 1940s until 1972, sport hunting by others took place. The 1959 Statehood Act set up a program for polar bear management, and further conservation efforts, including the 1972 Marine Mammal Protection Act, have limited polar bear hunts. Polar bear populations may be threatened by oil development and global warming. [ [http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/sci/tech/521451.stm BBC News | Sci/Tech | Global warming could starve polar bears ] ]

Wolf

There are two subspecies of wolves in Alaska.Alaska Department of Fish & Game. [http://www.adfg.state.ak.us/pubs/notebook/furbear/wolf.php "Wolf."] 2005-5-23. Retrieved on February 6, 2007.] The wolves in the southeastern part of Alaska are darker in color and smaller than those in the northern regions of the state. Coat colors of wolves range from black to white. Both gray and black wolves are common in Alaska. They are found on the mainland of Alaska, Unimak Island, and on all the major islands in the southeast except Admiralty, Baranof, Chichagof islands. Alaska wildlife managers suggest that there is an estimated one wolf per 25 square miles in Alaska, depending on the habitat that suits their needs. Current estimates place the statewide population between 6,000 and 11,000 wolves.

Wolf populations were once under significant pressure in Alaska. Wolves were killed by widespread government poison, trapping and bounty programs, as well as by normal hunting and trapping. Predator management programs today attempt to balance the intrinsic value of wolves and the value of moose and caribou they take that would otherwise be used for human consumption. Wolves are considered of high value in Alaska for their beauty and significant role in ecological relationships. [Alaska Department of Fish & Game Division of Wildlife Conservation. [http://www.wc.adfg.state.ak.us/index.cfm?adfg=wolf.wolf_mgt "Wolf Management in Alaska with a Historic Perspective."] March 2002. Retrieved on February 10, 2007.] Conservation efforts have been dedicated to ensure their future in Alaska and in the other states, but today wolves are apart of a highly controversial topic. The Alaskan government has established an aerial predator control program to reduce the wolf population, claiming they are attempting to artificially increase a dwindling ungulate population. To date, roughly 700 wolves have been shot under this controversial management plan, which many Alaskan citizens and conservationists oppose. Wildlife authorities also fear that human expansion into the wolves' land will hinder their survival. [ [http://www.wc.adfg.state.ak.us/index.cfm?adfg=wolf.wolf_mgt Historic Perspective of Wolf Management in Alaska, Alaska Department of Fish and Game Videos ] ]

Caribou

Alaska is home to the "Rangifer tarandus granti" subspecies of caribou.Alaska Department of Fish & Game [http://www.adfg.state.ak.us/pubs/notebook/biggame/caribou.php "Caribou."] 2005-5-23. Retrieved on February 6, 2007.] While other parts of the world use the terms "caribou" and "reindeer" synonymously, in Alaska "reindeer" refers exclusively to domesticated caribou. Caribou in Alaska generally are found in tundra and mountain regions, where there are few trees. However, many herds spend the winter months in the boreal forest areas.

Caribou are large-scale migratory animals and have been known to travel up to 50 miles a day. The migratory activities of caribou are usually driven by weather conditions and food availability. Changes in caribou migration can be problematic for Alaska Natives, who depend on Caribou for food.

Caribou in Alaska are abundant; currently there are an estimated 950,000 in the state. The populations of caribou are controlled by predators and hunters (who shoot about 22,000 caribou a year). Though in the 1970s there were worries that oil drilling and development in Alaska would harm caribou populations, they seem to have adapted to the presence of humans, and so far there have been few adverse effects.

Moose

The Alaska subspecies of moose ("Alces alces gigas") is the largest in the world; adult males weigh 1,200 to 1,600 pounds (542-725 kg), and adult females weigh 800 to 1,300 pounds (364-591 kg)"Alaska Department of Fish & Game: Moose". 2005-5-23. Retrieved on February 6, 2007. http://www.adfg.state.ak.us/pubs/notebook/biggame/moose.php] Alaska's substantial moose population is controlled by predators such as bears and wolves, which prey mainly on vulnerable calves, as well as by hunters.

Because of the abundance of moose in Alaska, moose-human interactions are frequent. Moose have played an important role in the state's history; professional hunters once supplied moose meat to feed mining camps. Athabaskan Indians have hunted them to provide food as well as supplies for clothing and tools. They are now hunted frequently by big game hunters, who take 6,000 to 8,000 moose per year. Today, moose are often seen feeding and grazing along the state's highways. Moose can sometimes cause problems, as when they eat crops, stand in the middle of airfields, or dangerously cross the path of cars and trains.

Mountain goat

Mountain goats are found in the rough and rocky mountain regions of Alaska, throughout the southeastern Panhandle and along the Coastal Mountains of the Cook Inlet."Alaska Department of Fish & Game: Mountain Goat". 2005-5-23. Retrieved on February 6, 2007. http://www.adfg.state.ak.us/pubs/notebook/biggame/mtn_goat.php] Populations are generally confined in the areas of the Chugach and Wrangell Mountains. Mountain goats have been transplanted to the islands of Baranof and Kodiak, where they have maintained a steady population. The mountain goat is the only representation in North America of the goat-like ungulates. Very little was known about mountain goats up until 1900. They constantly migrate to different areas from the alpine ridges in the summer, and to the tree-line in the winter.

Bison

The ancestors of the American bison ("Bison bison bison") now in Alaska were transplanted from Montana in 1928, when 20 animals were imported by the Alaska Game Commission and released in the area of what is now Delta Junction. Additional herds have developed along the Copper River, Chitina River, and near Farewell from natural emigration and transplant. Small domesticated herds have also been established near Kodiak and Delta Junction, as well as on Popov Island."Alaska Department of Fish & Game: American Bison". 1994. Retrieved on September 2, 2007. http://www.adfg.state.ak.us/pubs/notebook/biggame/bison.php]

Another sub-species of bison, the wood bison ("b. b. athabascae") was once Alaska’s most common large land mammal. The combined effects of pre-contact habitat change and human harvest were probably responsible for their disappearance. The last reported sighting of wood bison in Alaska was in the early 1900’s. Oral history accounts from Alaska Native elders suggest that these bison were a resource for indigenous peoples in Alaska as recently as 200 years ago. [Restoring Wood Bison in Alaska: Frequently Asked Questions” 2003-10-28. Retrieved on September 2, 2007. http://www.wildlife.alaska.gov/management/game/bison_faq.pdf]

In 2003, there were approximately 900 wild American bison in Alaska. [”Bison Management Report of Survey-Inventory Activities” 2004-12. Retrieved on September 2, 2007. http://www.wildlife.alaska.gov/pubs/techpubs/mgt_rpts/bi04mt.pdf] Their numbers are controlled by managed sport hunting, as predation is not common. Bison can occasionally be seen on their summer range from the Richardson Highway south of Delta Junction, on the Delta Junction Bison range and on the Delta Agricultural Project. The Alaska Department of Fish and Game is currently reviewing plans to reintroduce wood bison to Alaska from Canada.

Dall sheep

Dall sheep live in the mountain regions of Alaska where there is rocky terrain and steep, inclined land."Alaska Department of Fish & Game: Dall Sheep". 2005-5-23. Retrieved on February 8, 2007. [http://www.adfg.state.ak.us/pubs/notebook/biggame/dallshee.php] ] The mountain setting is an ideal place for them to rest and feed. They are occasionally seen below their usual high elevation only when food is scarce. Alaska contains a good size population of dall sheep. In their rocky environment, they are able to avoid predators and human activities.

Orca

The orca is also known as the killer whale (although they are dolphins) because it has been known to attack and eat other whales, and large prey animals such as seals and sea lions."Alaska Department of Fish & Game: Orca". 2005-5-23. Retrieved on February 8, 2007. [http://www.adfg.state.ak.us/pubs/notebook/marine/orca.php] ] Orcas are scattered among the Continental Shelf from southeast Alaska through the Aleutian Islands. They can also be seen in the waters of Prince William Sound.

Other mammals

Fish

Alaska has quite a variety of fish species. Its lakes, rivers, and oceans are home to fish such as trout, salmon, char, grayling, lampreys, lingcod, pike, and whitefish. Every year, the salmon participate in the great spawning migration up against the river currents. They do this in large numbers and are frequently seen jumping out of the water. This is a physical effort of them trying to go against the current. Bears, particularly brown bears, take advantage of this event by swarming to the rivers, and indulging in the salmon feast. Bear Lake, near Seward on the Kenai Peninsula, has been the site of salmon enhancement activities since 1962.

Birds

Birds in Alaska include:
* American Dipper
* Boreal Owl
* Canadian Goose
* Bald Eagle
* Great Gray Owl
* Northern Hawk Owl
* Harlequin Duck
* Osprey
* Sandhill Crane
* Rusty Blackbird

Amphibians and reptiles

Alaska’s extreme temperatures make it an uncharacteristic location to host many species of amphibians and reptiles. In fact, it only has two species of frogs. They are the spotted frog and wood frog. The only species of toad in Alaska is the western toad. ["Alaska Department of Fish & Game: Frogs & Toads". 2005-5-23. Retrieved on February 6, 2007. [http://www.adfg.state.ak.us/pubs/notebook/amphibia/amphib.php] ] The Alaskan waters are home to two species of turtles. They are the leatherback sea turtle and the green sea turtle. ["Alaska Department of Fish & Game: Turtle". 2005-5-23. Retrieved on February 6, 2007. [http://www.adfg.state.ak.us/pubs/notebook/amphibia/turtle.php] ]

Endangered Species

Alaska has one of the smallest endangered species lists. According to the Alaska Department of Fish & Game there are only 5 endangered species. They are:
* Eskimo Curlew ["Alaska Department of Fish & Game Division of Wildlife Conservation: State of Alaska Endangered Species List". 2008-3-04. Retrieved on April 9, 2008. [http://www.adfg.state.ak.us/special/esa/esa_home.php] ]
* Humpback Whale ["Alaska Department of Fish & Game Division of Wildlife Conservation: State of Alaska Endangered Species List". 2008-3-04. Retrieved on April 9, 2008. [http://www.adfg.state.ak.us/special/esa/esa_home.php] ]
* Bowhead Whale ["Alaska Department of Fish & Game Division of Wildlife Conservation: State of Alaska Endangered Species List". 2008-3-04. Retrieved on April 9, 2008. [http://www.adfg.state.ak.us/special/esa/esa_home.php] ]
* Blue Whale ["Alaska Department of Fish & Game Division of Wildlife Conservation: State of Alaska Endangered Species List". 2008-3-04. Retrieved on April 9, 2008. [http://www.adfg.state.ak.us/special/esa/esa_home.php] ]
* Steller's Sea Lion (Western Stock) ["Alaska Department of Fish & Game Division of Wildlife Conservation: State of Alaska Endangered Species List". 2008-3-04. Retrieved on April 9, 2008. [http://www.adfg.state.ak.us/special/esa/esa_home.php] ]
* Fin Whale ["Alaska Department of Fish & Game Division of Wildlife Conservation: State of Alaska Endangered Species List". 2008-3-04. Retrieved on April 9, 2008. [http://www.adfg.state.ak.us/special/esa/esa_home.php] ]
* North Pacific right Whale ["Alaska Department of Fish & Game Division of Wildlife Conservation: State of Alaska Endangered Species List". 2008-3-04. Retrieved on April 9, 2008. [http://www.adfg.state.ak.us/special/esa/esa_home.php] ]
* Sei Whale ["Alaska Department of Fish & Game Division of Wildlife Conservation: State of Alaska Endangered Species List". 2008-3-04. Retrieved on April 9, 2008. [http://www.adfg.state.ak.us/special/esa/esa_home.php] ]
* Leatherback Turtle ["Alaska Department of Fish & Game Division of Wildlife Conservation: State of Alaska Endangered Species List". 2008-3-04. Retrieved on April 9, 2008. [http://www.adfg.state.ak.us/special/esa/esa_home.php] ]
* Short-Tailed Albatross ["Endangered & Threatened Species Curriculum". Center For Alaskan Coastal Studies. 2006. Retrieved on February 6, 2007. [http://www.akcoastalstudies.org/Endangered.htm] ] ["Alaska Department of Fish & Game Division of Wildlife Conservation: State of Alaska Endangered Species List". 2007. Retrieved on February 7, 2007. [http://www.wildlife.alaska.gov/index.cfm?adfg=endangered.list] ]

References

ee also

* Hunting and fishing in Alaska
* Arctic National Wildlife Refuge
* Arctic Refuge drilling controversy
* Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center
* Alaska Wildlife Alliance
* List of Alaska mammals

United States topic
title = Wildlife of the United States by political division
prefix = Wildlife of


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