22 of the Coolest Animals You’ll Find in Alaska

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Alaska is known as The Last Frontier for its wild lands, where animals far outnumber humans. These animals make Alaska such a unique draw for people looking to live a different style of life and for tourists who want a glimpse into this desolate and untamed part of the country.

From fearsome land mammals like the grizzly bear to the massive musk ox and moose to awe-inspiring creatures of the sea like the Orca and humpback whale, Alaska has it all.

On your next trip up to Alaska or the next time you step out of the door of your interior cabin, here are some of the animals you may run into that define the Alaskan wild.

Grizzly Bear

Brown bear in Alaska
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The grizzly bear is undoubtedly the king of Alaskan land animals. This fearsome predator lives in the minds of anyone venturing out into the wilderness during the summer and fall months. The grizzly bear’s territory covers almost the entire state, save for a few islands on the far western and eastern corners. So, no matter where you are in the state, the odds are certainly not zero that you may run into one of these incredible animals.


The wolf of Alaska
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Anyone who has spent any time camping out in the wilderness knows the eerie feeling when a pack of wolves starts calling late at night. Like the grizzly bear, wolves cover virtually the entire state of Alaska, and although they can be challenging to spot at times, they are almost always around. These amazing animals spend their time in packs hunting the other large land mammals like the caribou, reindeer, and moose, that call Alaska home.


Moose, Denali National Park and Preserve, Alaska, USA
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Moose are the largest member of the deer family, but it can be hard to understand their sheer size until you’ve seen one up close and in person. A full-grown male moose can stand over 6 feet tall and weigh in at over 1,600 pounds. These incredible creatures are found all over the state and are one of driver’s biggest fears during the winter months as they will travel on the dark, snowy roads, making for a uniquely Alaskan road hazard.

King Crab

King Red Crab on ice close-up
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If you’re not at a seafood restaurant in Anchorage or working on a crabbing boat in the Bering Sea, your chance of running across a king crab is, unfortunately, relatively small. These prickly creatures live far down in the depths of the icy waters off the Alaskan coast, where fishermen brave winter storms to bring them to dinner tables across the world. With that said, it’s still worth finding a restaurant or seafood shop with a live tank, as seeing these crabs up close is a sight to behold.


Horned Puffin (Fratercula corniculata) at St. George Island, Pribilof Islands, Alaska, USA
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Alaska’s coastal waters are home to an estimated 90 species of seabirds, but the puffin has stolen the hearts of visitors. This small bird, most weighing only around a pound, has a distinctively shaped and colored bill that makes it stand out in the crowd. Visitors love watching them dive from their seaside roosts into the waters below to catch small fish for their young.

Humpback Whale

Humpback whale breaching (Megaptera novaeangliae), Alaska, Southeast Alaska, near Frederick Sound
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Humpback whales are among the great travelers of the ocean. They spend their winters in the warm waters of Hawaii and Mexico before returning to Alaska each summer. These magnificent creatures gather in huge numbers in the protected ocean of Southeast and Southcentral Alaska, where they spend their summers feeding on the abundant krill that live in these waters. Mid-summer is when you’ll have the best chance of watching these whales bubble feed, which is a spectacle unto itself.

Black Bear

Alaska. Black bear catching food during the salmon run.
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Some Alaskan locals consider the black bear to be the raccoon of Alaska. These opportunistic animals are known for taking advantage of any unsecured garbage can that may provide their next meal. Black bears are found throughout the southeast, southcentral, and central parts of the state, often in large numbers.

The old joke in many Alaskan towns was that if you wanted to see bears, you should just hang out at the town dump. If you ask me, it’s not the most picturesque Alaskan scene!


Majestic caribou bull in front of Denali, ( mount Mckinley), Alaskal
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Caribou dominate the tundra regions of northern Alaska, living in massive herds whose semi-annual migration is a sight to be seen. These large members of the deer family sport massive antlers and can weigh up to 400 pounds.

Did you know that reindeer and caribou are the same species of animal? The only difference is caribou are wild and reindeer are domesticated.


Wolverine (Gulo gulo)
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Wolverines are elusive creatures that have built up a larger-than-life reputation for their ferocious nature. While they may not quite live up to that reputation in real life, these animals can still put up a good fight if provoked.

The wolverine is a rather solitary creature, so even though they can be found in almost every corner of the state, the odds of seeing one in the wild are pretty low. Some estimates have them at only 4 to 5 animals per thousand square kilometers of land.


Jumping Transient Orca, hunting porpoises
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The orca, or killer whale as it is commonly known, is one of Alaska’s most breathtaking creatures. These incredibly smart creatures call Alaska home so they can feast on the bounty of salmon, seals, octopuses, and any other creature that may cross their path.

Killer whales travel in pods and can be found in coastal waters throughout Alaska. Some pods are considered residents, where they live in one general area and feed primarily on salmon and other fish, while others are transient and feed opportunistically on marine mammals.

Chinook Salmon

Close-Up of a Chinook Salmon During Spawning
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The chinook salmon, or king salmon, is Alaska’s most famous fish, which has attracted anglers and commercial fishermen for generations. These large salmon can grow to sizes in excess of 100 pounds and are prized for their delicious, rich flavor.

Did you know that the world record for king salmon caught by a sport fisherman is 97 pounds, and the record for a commercial fisherman is 126 pounds?

Dall Sheep

Dall Sheep Ram in a winter mountain landscape with the peas of the Chugach Mountains outside of Anchorage, Alaska behind the ram.
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Dall sheep are found in some of the most remote and rugged terrain that can be found in Alaska. These majestic animals have caused many a hunter to end up on cliffsides with seemingly no way out only to see them bound off into the fog.

The dall sheep’s hooves make them well suited to navigate the tricky rocky terrain found high in the Alaskan mountain ranges. This terrain offers excellent protection from predators, so keep your eye on the cliffs above when traveling through the mountains of southcentral Alaska.


Musk ox (Ovibos moschatus) in autumn
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You would be hard-pressed to find an animal better suited for Alaska than the muskox. With their long, shaggy fur and stocky build that keeps them low to the ground, these large animals can thrive in Alaska’s harsh winters.

Muskox were once abundant in Alaska, but their population disappeared in the 1920s. In 1930, 34 muskoxen from Greenland were relocated to central Alaska, and with proper protections in place, their population quickly grew. Today, there are more than 4,000 in the state.

Wood Bison

Wood Bison (Bison bison athabascae) on Alaska Highway.
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Wood bison once called large swaths of Alaska home but, like the muskox, was hunted into near extinction in the early 1900s. Recently, a new population of these magnificent creatures was released into the wilds of central Alaska, where they are thriving.

Did you know that the wood bison is a different species than the plains bison that dominated the American West? These bison tend to be around 15% larger than their cousins to the south.

Bald Eagle

Flying bald eagle ( Haliaeetus leucocephalus washingtoniensis ) over snow-covered mountains. Winter Alaska. USA
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The bald eagle is a symbol of America and a sight to behold for tourists who watch them swoop down to catch fish directly out of the ocean. These huge birds, with wingspans of up to 7.5 feet wide, call every part of Alaska home and can be found in huge numbers in the coastal regions of the state.

Go to any salmon stream during the summer or fall, and you’ll be able to spot hundreds of them watching from the trees and enjoying their meals along the beach.

Sea Otter

Sea otter close up
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Sea otters are the fuzzy, cuddly animals in Alaska that just about everyone wants to see in person. These calm sea mammals spend their days aimlessly floating around protected harbors while occasionally diving down to grab a bite to eat in the form of a crab or clam.

At one point, the sea otter was near extinction, but protections have allowed its populations to explode. This has led to some contention, as they can be voracious eaters and wipe out shellfish populations.

Arctic Fox

Arctic fox
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The arctic fox has a uniquely Alaskan skill of being able to change its fur color from grey or brown in the summer to pure white in the winter. This allows it to blend in and both hide from prey and ensure that it remains hidden from its prey.

Arctic foxes are primarily found in the northern reaches of the state, where human activity is scarce. They have been known, though, to show up at the northern villages looking for an easy meal when food is limited during the long winter months.

Harbor Seal

USA, Alaska, Leconte Bay, Harbor Seal pup resting on iceberg calved from LeConte Glacier east of Petersburg
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Harbor seals are a prevalent sight along Southeast and Southwest Alaska coastal waters. These large marine mammals, which can grow up to 285 pounds, feast on the fish and invertebrates that thrive in these waters.

Unlike the sea lion, the harbor seal is a fairly docile creature that is usually seen curiously peeking out of the water or hauled out on floating icebergs. These seals are a favorite meal for the orcas who also call these waters home, so they have to maintain a constant vigilance.


The rock ptarmigan (Lagopus muta), Svalbard, Longyearbyen
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The state bird of Alaska, the ptarmigan, like the arctic fox, is known for its ability to change its coat from brown in the summer to snow white in the winter. Another unique feature of these birds is their feathered feet, which help keep them warm during the cold winter months.

There are two species of ptarmigan, the willow and rock ptarmigan, that call Alaska home.

Polar Bear

Polar bear on the ice
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Polar bears roam the most northern stretches of the state but spend most of their time on the sea ice hunting for ring seals. As the sea ice recedes during the warmer months, these bears find themselves roaming the northern shores of Alaska, where a washed-up whale or walrus carcass can attract a rather large gathering.


The Canada lynx (Lynx canadensis) is a lynx species native to North America
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Many folks are surprised when they find out that the Lynx isn’t all that much bigger than a large housecat. Male lynx will typically only weigh up to 30 pounds.

This short-tailed wild cat is uniquely suited for life in Alaska. Its large paws act as natural snowshoes, and its furry feet keep it warm during the long winter. Lynx cover large swaths of interior Alaska and can occasionally be found in coastal areas near the southcentral parts of the state.


During an arctic summer storm a massive mosquito swarm engulfs a teenage hiker on the tundra. Galbraith Lake, Dalton highway, Alaska.
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And last but not least, the unofficial bird of Alaska, the mosquito!

About the author
Derek Carlson
Pacific Northwest native, cross-country skier, hiker, mountain biker, wannabe fly fisherman, writer and owner of Roam the Northwest