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The Top Alaskan Wilderness Sights Part 3

Updated on February 26, 2010

Wildlife Sampler

Caribou often trek more than 1,000 miles in herds exceeding 50,000 animals. These new-world reindeer inhabit tundra and mountain regions, where they eat lichens, grass, and saplings. Both sexes have antlers.  
 
Mountain-dwelling Dall sheep have snow-white bodies, weigh about 150 pounds, and feed on grass. Both sexes have curled horns; the male's, used for butting contests, are sometimes a yard long.      
     
Moose, the largest members of the deer family, stand about six feet tall. Bulls weigh up to 1,800 pounds; their antlers, sometimes five feet across, can weigh 85 pounds. Moose are often seen feeding in lakes and streams.   

Humpback whales dazzle onlookers with acrobatic leaps and tail splashes. More than half of the world's humpbacks migrate to Alaska in summer to feast on schooling fish.

Killer whales are the largest members of the dolphin family. These highly social predators feed on fish, seals, and other cetaceans. Their black dorsal fins - some six feet tall - are commonly seen in the waters of southeast Alaska.

Sea otters are often seen floating on their backs, cracking shellfish against a rock on their chests. The animals have flipperlike hind feet and gleaming coats of thick, dark-brown fur, whose value to hunters nearly led to the species' extinction.

Tufted puffins live in colonies on rocky islands and sea cliffs. Excellent swimmers, they propel themselves undersea using small wings. Strong, triangular bills allow puffins to crush mollusks and carry several fish at a time.

Keep your distance from Alaska's grizzly, or brown, bears. These massive omnivores, which weigh up to 900 pounds and can run as fast as 30 mph, have been known to attack humans without provocation. Grizzlies can be viewed at freshwater streams gorging on salmon during the spawning season.

Black bears weigh as much as 600 pounds and stand up to six feet tall. Alaska's most abundant bears, they feed primarily on grass, berries, and nuts. They lack the grizzly's humped back and concave face and do not share its preference for open spaces.

Surefooted mountain goats inhabit rugged peaks and subsist on plants. The rubbery soles of their hooves provide good traction. Both sexes have short, slender horns and shaggy white hair, which is shed in summer.

Sockeye salmon are also called red salmon, owing to their color during the spawning season. The four- to seven-pound fish often migrate more than 1,000 miles, returning from the sea to spawn in the streams where they were born.

Mature bald eagles have a white head, neck, and tail, and a dark-brown body. They are 30 to 43 inches long, with wingspans of 80 to 96 inches. Chiefly fish-eaters, they have powerful bills and talons, and are sometimes seen stealing fish from other raptors.

Gray, or timber, wolves are rarely seen, although hikers often find their scat and four-toed tracks, or hear their haunting yips and howls. The gregarious animals live in packs, mate for life, and hunt caribou, deer, and moose.

Arctic foxes inhabit tundra or icy mountain and sea regions. White in winter, grayish or brown in summer, they attain a length of 20 to 24 inches. Their diet consists of small animals and vegetation.

Continued In The Top Alaskan Wilderness Sights Part 4

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