Although the name grizzly bear is sometimes used to refer to all brown bears, grizzly actually refers to one subspecies in the northwestern interior of North America. Members of the subspecies that range throughout coastal Alaska and western Canada are known as Alaskan bears; those on Alaska’s Kodiak Archipelago are called Kodiak bears. Brown bears forage on the abundance of berries during early summer, while offshore our paddling is often punctuated by sightings of the spectacular humpback whale. This most dramatic of wild marine species adds an exclamation point to a rich and rewarding Alaskan adventure. The Alaskan coastal brown bear is genetically the same as a grizzly bear. Coastal brown bears grow larger than grizzlies, due to the high amount of protein in their diet, primarily salmon.
The American black bear is a medium-sized bear native to North America. It is the continent's smallest and most widely distributed bear species. Black bears are omnivores, with their diets varying greatly depending on season and location. They typically live in largely forested areas, but do leave forests in search of food. Sometimes they become attracted to human communities because of the immediate availability of food. The American black bear is the world's most common bear species.
The bald eagle can be found from Alaska to Florida, with the largest individuals coming from the northern parts of the range. After the breeding season the northern birds migrate south, and many Florida eagles wander northward. The name bald, often thought to be a misnomer, does not imply a lack of feathers, but is derived from an obsolete word meaning marked with white, as in piebald. Young birds of this species lack the white head and tail of the adults, which take four to five years to attain. Compared to other eagles, the bald eagle is a relatively clumsy hunter and fisher, and for its prey relies heavily on dead or injured fish, or those that come to shallow water to spawn.
Dall's porpoise (Phocoenoides dalli) is a species of porpoise found only in the North Pacific. It came to worldwide attention in the 1970s when it was disclosed for the first time to the public that salmon fishing trawls were killing thousands of Dall's porpoises and other cetaceans each year by accidentally capturing them in their nets. Dall's porpoise is the only member of the genus Phocoenoides. It was named after American naturalist W. H. Dall.
The harbor porpoise is one of six species of porpoise. It is one of the smallest marine mammals. As its name implies, it stays close to coastal areas or river estuaries, and as such, is the most familiar porpoise to whale watchers. This porpoise often ventures up rivers, and has been seen hundreds of miles from the sea.
Harbor seals have a highly developed diving metabolism that allows them to hold their breath for up to two hours. They store most of the oxygen in their blood and muscle instead of their lungs.
Humpback whales are highly acrobatic. They often slap their flippers and tails on the water's surface and breach, or leap out of the water. An adult humpback whale may leap completely clear of the water, then fall back in a cascade of foam. Such aerial activity occurs at all times of year but is especially prevalent in the winter mating and calving grounds. Males, females, and even young calves may engage in such displays. Whale acoustics vary depending on the whale's environment. Humpback whales make high frequency sounds that are more localized.
The moose is a member of the deer subfamily and is the largest and heaviest extant species in the deer family. Moose are distinguished by the broad, palmate (open-hand shaped) antlers of the males; other members of the deer family have antlers with a dendritic (twig-like) configuration. Moose typically inhabit boreal forests and temperate broadleaf and mixed forests of the Northern Hemisphere in temperate to subarctic climates. Hunting and other human activities have caused a reduction in the size of the moose's range over time. Moose have been reintroduced to some of their former habitats. Currently, most moose are found in Canada, Alaska, New England, Baltic states, and Russia.
Orcas are commonly called killer whales, although they are actually a member of the dolphin family. Fish-eating "resident orcas" and mammal-eating “transient orcas” are genetically distinct from each other, and never intermingle. Both male and female orcas (killer whales) have bold black-and-white coloring. The animals are glossy black over most of the body, with a white belly and striking white patches above the eye. The shape of a fainter grayish-white patch just behind the dorsal fin is unique to each killer whale and scientists use this marking as one way to identify individual animals.
Sea otters feed mainly on mollusks and sea urchins, which they crush with their large, blunt teeth. Sea otters also regularly use rocks as tools to open shellfish while swimming on their backs. The female gives birth to a single offspring at a time, which she nurses while lying on her back in the water. The sea otter is the only marine mammal lacking an insulating layer of blubber, which serves to protect the animal from the frigid ocean waters. To compensate for this lack of blubber, the sea otter must constantly preen its fur, keeping it meticulously clean and allowing an insulating layer of air to be trapped against the skin. When contaminated by oil, sea otters lose the ability to protect themselves against cold ocean waters, since the oil mats the fur, preventing the insulating air space from forming. In addition, the sea otter will ingest the oil as it cleans its fur, usually causing illness and death.
The Sitka deer or Sitka black-tailed deer is a subspecies of mule deer. Their name originates from Sitka, Alaska, and it is not to be confused with the similarly named sika deer. Sitka deer are characteristically smaller than other subspecies of mule deer. Reddish-brown in the summer, their coats darken to a gray-brown in mid- to late August. They are good swimmers, and can occasionally be seen crossing deep channels between islands.
Stellar Sea Lions are highly social animals, and are usually found on rocky islets or on the open seacoast. Often several hundred sea lions will take to the ocean, swimming and diving together. Females and young pups sometimes converge in large groups to form what appear to be floating rafts. Steller’s sea lions swim by using their long, broad front flippers in a powerful breaststroke.