Marine Life in Alaska
Coastal Waters around Alaska offer
excellent opportunities to see marine life including whales, dolphins, porpoise,
seals, sea lions, fur seals, walrus, sea otters, and more.
Steller Sea Lion
||This "Lion of the Sea" earned its name because of its distinctive bellowing roar. As the largest sea lions, males can reach eleven feet in length and weigh up to 2,200 pounds. The Steller Sea Lion uses its flippers as rudders for steering, and travels up to 250 miles from home in search for food. Out of the water, Sea Lions look like couch potatoes. Or even like couches. In
the water, they're graceful and beautiful. They tend to be big and brown --
whereas seals are black or gray. Sea lions' long flippers give them some
mobility on land.
||The sea otter has the thickest fur in the animal kingdom and depends on air trapped in the fur to help them maintain their body temperature. A member of the weasel family, the sea otter is one of the only mammals to use tools, often relying on small rocks or other shellfish to pry prey from rocks, and hammer or pry open their food. You're sure to see sea otters on a trip into Prince William Sound. They're bigger than their freshwater counterparts and eat huge amounts of seafood. They divide their days between grooming their fur and eating. They live from 10 to 20 years.
||Harbor seals eat fish, and you'll see them swimming gracefully in the water.
On land, it's a different story. They're really too fish-like to be able to
maneuver around like most other mammals. So when they're out of the water, they
tend to stay in groups for their protection. Harbor seals are found on icebergs in June when they give birth, and in
August when they molt.
You may well see black-and-white dall porpoises running alongside your boat out in Prince William Sound. They kick up a rooster tail of spray when they surface and are enthusiastic bow riders on boats. They're very fast -- and black, with a white belly. The coloring is similar to an orca, but they're smaller - and don't have the very large dorsal fin of an orca whale. They can travel up to 50 mph. This porpoise has a stocky, black body with large white sections on the flanks and belly. The head is small and beakless. They are 6 to 8 feet long, weighing up to 400 pounds. They are commonly seen offshore and inshore from southern California to Alaska. Being a deepwater animal it comes close to shore where their are canyons or deep channels. Sightings are common in Hecate Strait, Queen Charlotte Strait, Juan de Fuca Strait, and exposed seaways like Queen Charlotte Sound, Dixon Entrance and Fitzhugh Sound.
The genus name for the walrus, Odobenus (meaning
tooth-walker), refers to one of their most prominent characteristics,
their tusks. These tusks, which are elongated upper canine teeth, are
present in both males and females. The body form is basically like a sea
lion, and they have flexible hind flippers that can be rotated forward, a
thick, heavy neck, and a broad muzzle that bears a heavy, bristly
moustache. They are huge animals. Adult bulls often approach 2 tons in
weight, and the females may exceed 1 ton. The tusks are used for fighting,
for climbing on both land and ice, and for emergencies of various kinds. A
female walrus was observed literally demolishing a heavy piece of ice to
free her calf, which had fallen into a crevasse. The tusks were as
effective as a pick-axe.
Giant Pacific Octopus
Pacific octopus is an intelligent creature. In laboratory tests and
aquariums, it has been able to solve mazes very quickly, unscrew jar lids
to retrieve food inside the jar, and even mimic another octopus in a
different tank. The giant Pacific octopus is one of the largest
species of octopods. Its reddish-brown body, called the mantle, plus four
pairs of arms, measure on average about 16 feet long from arm tip to arm
tip. The record weight for a Pacific giant is 600 pounds, but most weigh
about 50 to 90 pounds. Newly hatched young are the size of a grain of
||Salmon is the name of the game in Alaska. And nearly every river and stream on
the Kenai Peninsula which is connected to the sea supports some or all of the
salmon species found in Alaska.
Chinook Salmon (King)
The Chinook salmon, Alaska's state Fish, is perhaps the most highly prized sport fish in Alaska and is
extensively fished by anglers in the Southeast and Cook Inlet areas. It is abundant from the southeastern panhandle to the Yukon River. Major
populations return to the Yukon, Kuskokwim, Nushagak, Susitna, Kenai, Copper,
Alsek, Taku, and Stikine rivers. Important runs also occur in many smaller
streams. It is the largest of all Pacific salmon, with weights of individual fish
commonly exceeding 30 pounds. A 126-pound Chinook salmon taken in a fish trap
near Petersburg, Alaska in 1949 is the largest on record. The largest
sport-caught Chinook salmon was a 97-pound fish taken in the Kenai River in
Red Salmon (sockeye)
Alaskans love to eat red salmon, but the red (or sockeye) is the hardest of the
state's five species of salmon to catch. Reds (Onchorhynchus nerka) lack the large black spots found on king, silver and
pink salmon. Other names for red salmon are sockeye and blueback.
Silver Salmon (Coho)
Silver salmon, or cohoes, are fighting fish. Their acrobatics and reel-humming
runs make stream and saltwater fishing a thrill. Saltwater silvers are bright
silver with small black spots on the back.
Pink Salmon (humpback)
Pink salmon -- also known as humpbacks or humpies because of the males'
distinctive physique -- are fun to catch as they return in immense schools.
Pinks are important to the state's canning industry. The pink is nicknamed "humpback" or "humpy" because of
the distinctive hump the male develops at spawning time. Pinks use the streams
of coastal Alaska as far north as Kotzebue.
Chum Salmon (dog)
Chum salmon are colorful as they make their way into fresh water, and a little
fearsome with the hooked snout and large teeth of the males. Chums often arrive with pinks and silvers but are rarely sought by anglers
despite their strength and willingness to take lures.
||The name "halibut" is derived from the Middle English "haly-butte," meaning the flatfish to be eaten on holy days. And Alaskans do revere the halibut.
The halibut taken by anglers usually weigh 15 to 20 pounds (described as "chickens"), but 150-pounders are often caught. Like other bottom-dwelling flatfish, halibut have both eyes on "top." Actually, the left eye migrates to the right side in the first few months of the halibut's life. Halibut are important to commercial and sport anglers from the Inside Passage to the Kenai Peninsula to the Aleutians.
From kids catching 8-inch stocked fish to giddy grownups landing a 30-pounder on
a remote stream, rainbow trout are a big part of Alaska's fishing culture. Rainbow trout, with their dark backs, reddish-pink side
bands and black speckles, attract anglers from around the world, especially to
southwestern Alaska. The clear streams and lakes of the Bristol Bay area produce
trout up to 42 pounds.
Steelhead trout are perfect for anglers pursing freshwater fish with saltwater
instincts. Steelhead trout are rainbows that
spend part of their lives in the ocean. Steelheads are more streamlined and have
a more silvery sheen than freshwater-only rainbows.
Cutthroat trout are aggressive, as one might guess from their name and red slash
mark under the jaw. Cutthroats range from lower
Southeast Alaska to Prince William Sound in Southcentral. Landlocked cutthroats
may reach 24 inches, and sea-run fish reach 18 inches. Adults have a vivid red
slash mark under the jaw.
Alaska's waters. They are found in Southeast Alaska. Brook trout are also called
brook char. Brook trout are distinguished from most trout and salmon by a lack
of any black spots on their body.
Lake trout -- really a variety of char -- take to Alaska's cold lakes. Laker trout are Alaska's largest freshwater fish. They
live in deep lowland lakes in the Arctic coastal plain, in clear mountain lakes
of the north and in glacial lakes on the north side of the Chugach Range and the
Other Fish in Alaska
The arctic char is the most northerly distributed of char and char's closely
related cousin, the Dolly Varden. In Alaska, arctic char are found in lakes in the Brooks Range, the Kigluaik
Mountains, the Kuskokwim Mountains, the Alaska Peninsula, Kenai Peninsula,
Kodiak Island and in a small area of Interior Alaska near Denali National Park.
The colorful Dolly Varden is locally abundant in all coastal waters of Alaska. Two basic forms of Dolly Varden occur in Alaska
waters. The southern form ranges from lower Southeast Alaska to the tip of the
Aleutian Chain, and the northern form is distributed on the north slope
drainages of the Aleutian Range northward along Alaska's coast to the Canada
The arctic grayling, with its spots and sail-like dorsal fin, is instantly
recognized. The grayling lives in many streams and lakes. It's fun to catch, and
its light flesh is tasty.
Long and aggressive, the northern pike makes a fearsome predator to Alaska's
trout and salmon populations in Southcentral Alaska. But in the Minto Flats of
the Interior, the pike has become a sought-after trophy.
Whitefish are the most common species north of the Alaska Range. There are eight
species, including the sheefish. Whitefish in general are silver-colored with large scales, fleshy dorsal and
adipose fins, no teeth, and a small fleshy appendage at the base of the pelvic
fin called a pelvic axillary process.
Lingcod -- often considered one of the ugliest fish in the ocean but also one of
the tastiest -- are a popular saltwater sportfish usually found in water 30 to
300 feet deep and sometimes 3,000 feet deep. The lingcod -- actually a type of greenling -- can live 25 years and grow to
well over 70 pounds. They're voracious eaters, sporting a large mouth and 18
Salmon sharks take a bite out of Alaska's salmon runs, but they're not at the
top of the food chain when fishing charter boats are in the area. Gulf of Alaska anglers have caught salmon sharks averaging from 250 to 400
pounds and sometimes weighing over 700 pounds. Heavy tackle is needed
for these edible sharks, which resemble great white sharks and leap like marlin
The burbot got its name from the French word "bourbeter," which means "to wallow
in mud." And although the burbot, sporting a single chin barbel, is called an
ugly fish, its mild white flesh is considered quite tasty. The burbot is the only fresh-water cod in North America, living in cold waters
north of 40 degrees latitude, according to the Alaska Department of Fish and