Marine Life in Alaska

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

Steller Sea Lion in Alaska

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.

Sea Otter

Sea Otter in Alaska

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 Seal

Harbor Seal in Alaska

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.

Dall Porpoise

Dall Porpoise in Alaska

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.


Walrus in Alaska

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

Giant Pacific Octopus in Alaska

The giant 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 rice


Salmon in Alaska

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 1986.

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.


Halibut in Alaska

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.


Trout in Alaska

Rainbow Trout
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
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
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.

Brook Trout
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
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 Kenai Peninsula.

Other Fish in Alaska

Fish in Alaska

Arctic Char
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.

Dolly Varden
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 border.

Arctic Grayling
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.

Northern Pike
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 sharp teeth.

Salmon Shark
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 when hooked.

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 Game.

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