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Wolves roam over 85% of Alaska’s land and are so common that some estimates suggest there may be up to one wolf per 25 square miles (64.7 square kilometers). The state is home to the largest remaining population in America of the beautiful gray wolf, which is often seen running free throughout the countryside.
Although they may seem ideally suited for Alaska’s chilly climate, elk were actually imported from the Olympic Peninsula in Washington State to Alaska in the 1920s. Everything about the Alaskan elk is majestic, from its flowing antlers to its imposing size—bulls can reach up to 1,300 pounds.
The wood bison was once virtually extinct, but a multi-year project to reintroduce and cultivate the species by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game has been wildly successful. Today, visitors will see the distinctive reddish coats of wood bison calves dotting the Alaskan landscape.
Since polar bears spend their entire lives by sea ice, it is no surprise that they are commonly associated with Alaska. Their fur is waterproof, which keeps them warm while swimming in the frigid water, and their paws are covered with fur to keep them warm while they walk about on the ice.
Otherwise known as reindeer, the caribou may not be able to fly, but it can swim. A caribou’s hooves double as paddles, and visitors will often see them fording Alaska’s rivers, sometimes with little more than their antlers sticking out above the water.
The most distinctive feature of the Dall sheep are the massive, curling antlers on males. They are easily visible from a great distance, grazing on the slopes in summer and forging through the snow in the winter.
Also known as “killer whales,” orcas are actually dolphins who travel in packs, hunting for prey, including seals and sea lions. Both strong and swift, orcas can weigh up to 20,000 pounds, yet still swim as fast as 30 miles per hour.
Every year, salmon swim against river currents, jumping out of the water into the air in order to continue upstream against the tide. Brown bears have learned that the salmon’s migrations make for a particularly easy buffet, and they often congregate around rivers waiting for their next meal to leap.
The horned puffin is an adorable diving bird that swims underwater using its wings to propel itself forward. Puffins mate for life, and when they gather on the rookery islands in mid-May each year in high numbers, it is thought that some puffins may be reuniting with their mates from years before.
The bald eagle is Alaska’s largest bird of prey and has a wingspan of an astonishing 7.5 feet (2.3 meters). There are more bald eagles in Alaska than anywhere else in America. And the bald eagle is not actually hairless—American colonists named it during a time when “bald” meant white-headed.