Alaska is known for its impressive vistas, towering mountains, and pioneer spirit. But it also attracts many people each year to see the beautiful, rare species that call the North Pacific home. When you cruise to Alaska, keep an eye out for these fascinating species:
The Playful Humpback Whale
One of the largest members of the rorqual family of baleen whales, the humpback has extremely long flippers that can grow to be as long as 30 percent of its body. These giants of the deep have been listed as endangered, with approximately 30,000 left in the North Pacific — but the good news is that their population is growing at an estimated 7 percent per year. While humpbacks travel between Alaska and their wintering grounds in Hawaii, they feed mostly on krill and the small schooling fish that are abundant in such coastal waters as Prince William Sound. Humpbacks have a propensity for acrobatic behaviors like breaching, tail- and flipper-slapping, and charging. Some researchers believe that these behaviors can be traced back to courting rituals, while others believe they're just being playful. Look for these whales to surface while you cruise Alaska, and decide for yourself!
The Soaring Short-Tailed Albatross
Listed as an endangered species, the short-tailed albatross only nests in a few places in the world, and was nearly hunted to extinction in the early 1900s. This large seabird has an average wingspan of 7.5 feet and is easily distinguished by its blue feet and large pink bill. Adults have snow-white backs, golden heads, and black-and-white wings that are most notable when the birds are in full flight. That happens often — these birds spend the majority of their lives in at sea or in flight, landing only to breed and nest. Look for them to feed on the water's surface, hunting for fish, crustaceans, and squid.
The Rugged Sockeye Salmon
The distinctive red scales of the sockeye salmon appear right before they spawn, distinguishing these fish from other salmon species. One of the smaller members of the salmon family, the sockeye can be as long as 31 inches, and weigh anywhere from 4â€“15 pounds. You can catch a glimpse of the great migration of these fish as they come in the millions to Alaska to spawn in June and July, making them the most economically important species of salmon in Alaska. The last spawning journey of the salmon is an epic one, with some swimming hundreds of miles. During this entire journey, adult salmon travel upstream — jumping waterfalls and dodging eagles and bears. If you're lucky, you'll see these radiant fish navigating the fresh waterways as you cruise Alaska.