Most people have a bucket list of wildlife or sea life in Alaska to view. I’m often asked “Where’s the best place to see a bear?” or “How do I find a moose?”. (Honestly I’m just hoping I don’t meet either of them face to face when I open the door to let the dogs out in the morning.)
My advice? Simply exercise some patience and go out and look. It’s Alaska, you’re bound to find something!
That being said, there are no guarantees when it comes to viewing animals. The chances of being skunked are equally as good as hitting the mother load. In two trips to Denali National Park last summer we had one where we saw Bears, Caribou, Moose, and Dall Sheep in multiple numbers; the other trip we saw 1 Moose.
On those days when the stars align and all the big players are out in view, the call of the wild is downright irresistible.
Finding Sea Life in Alaska
Entertaining childhood fantasies of life aboard the ‘Calyspso’, following Jacques Cousteau around the world, I never pass up a chance to get out on the ocean. The whole family had the opportunity to go when everyone was here for Bridger’s high school graduation.
We’ve been lucky with viewing sea life in Alaska in the past, but I didn’t necessarily have high hopes for this trip off the Kenai Peninsula. It was early May and supposedly between Gray and Humpback whale migrations. Maybe we’d get lucky and see some of the resident Orcas, Seals and Sea Lions, plus an Otter or two.
I love it when I’m surprised. Not only did we find the Seals, Sea Lions and Otters we expected to see, but Orcas, Humpbacks, and Gray Whales as well.
It’s hard not to look at the largest of the dolphin family and not feel a sense of awe mixed in with a little fear. These are the wolves of the sea, often hunting in packs or family groups. And they are smart.
I’ve heard stories of Orcas working together to drown whale calves as they pass through the Aleutian islands into the Bering Sea. They are my biggest fear (likely irrational) about scuba diving or snorkeling in Alaska. My thought is that I look like a nice plump seal in my drysuit!
In Alaska, you have three main types: residents (they stay in a generally localized area), transients (they move around following mainly marine mammals), and offshore (they live in the open ocean). The groups usually won’t interbreed according to the rangers.
Sea Lions and Seals
The upper photo is of Stellar Sea Lions sunning themselves on the rocks or possibly avoiding their biggest predator. It kind of reminds me of my teenage son and his friends now that they’ve graduated and summer break is here. It’s about time they face the music and dive into the real world!
Harbor Seals are smaller and oh so cute. They are a staple for many native Alaskans who can hunt them for food and fur. They have special rights when in comes to sea life in Alaska. It’s a survival essential going back generations.
Surprisingly, a couple of Gray Whales were still hanging out in one of the bays. I was excited because I had never seen one. These guys were awfully shy making it almost impossible to get a picture of them. All I could get was just a small gray patch breaking through the ocean surface.
There are spring tours that go out for viewing, but I’m told they are a little harder to find than the Humpbacks which are migrating up now from warmer waters.
We saw several pods of Humpbacks. No breaches, but they are enchanting none the less. Their long slow roll on the surface results in a spray of mist, a body and hump that seem to go on forever, finally capped off by a tale.
I enjoyed many up close and personal encounters with these when we lived in Hawaii. The closest was about 25 feet when one swam by while I was underwater on a shore dive.
Last but not least? Otters. I absolutely loved to watch these guys. When I go to work in Seward once a month, they are often right off the dock by the Harborview 360 where I like to stay. It’s easy to get lost for hours observing them play, dive down for shellfish, open it and eat it, and even sleep. They are Saige’s favorite marine animal.
Also prized for their ultra-soft fur, they were hunted mercilessly by Russian fur traders, but have made a comeback. The Momma’s and babies get my vote as some of the cutest in nature.
It was a pretty awesome day on the water. Sea life in Alaska is plentiful, vibrant and well worth the effort to seek out. Plus, it fulfills that inner childhood yearning of being an ocean explorer.
Maybe there’s hope for that dream yet! Next time? I’m looking for Dall Porpoises and and continuing to try to figure out how to shoot a moving target from a moving boat in a moving ocean. Glad I don’t get seasick!0