Alaska vacations are packed with sightseeing and exploration, but the Last Frontier is also full of fascinating wildlife. On your next cruise to Alaska, keep your eye out for some of these captivating creatures.
Watch the Hunt of the Orcas
Orcas dwell in cooler coastal waters, from Southeast Alaska and Prince William Sound to the tips of the Aleutian Islands. Also known as killer whales, orcas hunt in packs (called pods), similar to wolves. Each pod has a distinct way of communicating with each other through a sequence of clicks, whistles, and calls. These massive creatures can weigh as much as 13,300 pounds, with dorsal fins that reach as high as six feet in males and three feet in females.
Search for Baby Chicks in the Horned Puffin Colonies
Horned puffins are some of the brightest of Alaska's wildlife, with two-tone yellow-and-red tipped bills that earned them the nickname "sea parrot" by some of the first sailors to find the region. These colorful birds are also committed parents. Puffins will not only build their nests underground, scratching out burrows in steep hillsides or along cliffs with their sharp claws, but they will also take turns incubating and keeping watch over their chick. Parents will alternate duties, one staying with the chick while the other hunts for food.
Listen for the Roar of the Steller Sea Lion
With their distinctive, low-pitched roars, and with males weighing more than 1,200 pounds and measuring up to 10 feet long, it's easy to see why they're called sea lions. Look for sea lion pups who play along the rocky shores, but don't let their lazy sun bathing fool you — Steller sea lions can dive as deep as 1,500 feet, and they swim remarkable distances to forage.
Laugh With Sea Otters
The largest members of the weasel family, sea otters can be found playing around glacial fjords. Adults can grow as long as five feet and adult males can weigh as much as 100 pounds. These expert divers can hold their breath for up to five minutes as they venture as deep as 250 feet to catch their prey. These dainty diners will resurface, roll on their backs, and eat their catch from their stomachs. Sea otters survive the cold water because of their incredibly dense fur; with 800,000 to one million hairs per square inch, they sport the thickest fur of all mammals.
There's nothing more exhilarating than a wildlife-watching shore excursion in Alaska. To get the best view, make sure you rent or bring binoculars or a camera with a telephoto lens.