The land areas and waters
of Prince William Sound are teeming with an astounding variety
of wildlife. Following are brief descriptions of some of the
many animals you may encounter on your voyage with us into
this marine paradise. We would like to thank the Alaska Department
of Fish and Game for many of the facts contained here about
the residents of our magnificent last frontier.
- Orcas are the largest member of the dolphin family, weighing
on average from 8,000 to 12,000 pounds. They range in length
from 27-33 feet with males being larger overall than females.
They live in very close-knit, life-long groups known as pods,
usually ranging in size from 6-40 whales. They breathe at
the surface of the water through a single blowhole located
near the top of their head. Orcas or killer whales are predators;
they consume a diverse diet of fish, shark, squid, octopus,
birds, as well as other marine mammals including seals and
other whales. The average Orca will consume around 550 pounds
of food each day.
WHALES - Humpback whales generally grow to be
around 50 feet long and weigh approximately 35-50 tons. Like
the Orca, they live in pods but they are much more temporary
associations - most lasting no longer than a few days. The
exception to this is the strong - and enduring bond between
mothers and calves. Humpbacks breathe at the surface of the
water through two blowholes located near the top the their
head. Humpbacks are baleen whales, meaning that they are seasonal
feeders that filter feed tiny crustaceans, small fish and
plankton. The average Humpback will eat around 5,000 pounds
of food each day during their feeding season. They are migratory
whales, spending their summers in Alaska and then wintering
in Hawaii or Mexico.
PORPOISES - With their beautiful black and white
skin, Dall’s porpoises are sometimes mistaken for baby
Orcas. They are, however, extremely different from Orca’s
in their behavior. Dall’s porpoises are robust animals
and high speed swimmers. Their average size is around seven
feet in length with a weight of 485 pounds. They are the fastest
small cetaceans, and enjoy riding the bow waves of boats.
They prefer cold, deep waters, making Alaskan waters a perfect
home for them. They feed on a wide variety of fish, along
with squid and crustaceans.
PORPOISES - Harbor porpoises are quite similar
in body size and length to Dall’s porpoises, but are
quite different in temperament. Harbor porpoises behave much
more cryptically than Dall’s - never riding bow waves
and surfacing very quietly. Harbor porpoises also tend to
be more shy - sightings can occur less frequently than Dall’s.
SEAL - Adult Harbor seals weigh, on average,
about 180 pounds with males being somewhat larger than females.
They are covered with short, bristle-type hair and they molt
annually. Their coloration varies somewhat, but generally
they are darker with lighter rings or lighter with darker
spots. They are able to dive greater than 600 feet and are
able to remain underwater for more than twenty minutes. They
reside mainly in coastal waters and haul out of the water
periodically to rest, give birth and nurse their young.
SEA LIONS – Steller’s sea lions differ
from harbor seals in that they have external ears, which harbor
seals do not, and their rear flippers turn forward. This allows
them to "walk" on land. There is a notable difference
in size between male and female Steller’s Sea lions,
with the adult males, on average, weighing more than twice
as much as the adult female. (Males average about 1200 pounds
while females average approximately 600 pounds). Steller’s
Sea lions are marine carnivores; their diet consists of a
wide variety of fish, as well as squid and octopus.
- The sea otter’s fur is the densest of any animal’s
fur-there are an estimated 650,000 hairs per square inch.
Sea otters do not have blubber to keep them warm, they rely
on air trapped in their fur for maintaining body temperature.
If the fur becomes soiled by materials such as oil the insulation
qualities are void. For this reason, sea otters spend much
of their day grooming their fur. Sea otters are members of
the weasel family; they are related to mink and river otters.
Adult males average about 80 pounds, while adult females average
about 50 pounds. Other than grooming, much of their day consists
of searching for food, since they require large amounts to
keep them healthy.
BEARS - In Alaska, grizzly bears and brown bears
are classified as the same species, Ursus arctos, except for
the brown bears on Kodiak Island - which are classified as
a distinct subspecies because they are genetically and physically
isolated. Grizzly bears closely resemble black bears, but
generally they are larger overall and they have a more prominent
shoulder hump, less prominent ears and longer, straighter
claws. The bears’ weight varies depending upon the time
of the year. They will weigh less in the spring but gain weight
rapidly throughout the summer and fall to reach their heaviest
point just prior to denning. Adult male bears typically weigh
around 600-900 pounds while females weigh half to three quarters
as much. Alaska is home to more than 70 percent of the brown
bear population of North America. In Prince William Sound,
Montague and Hinchinbrook Islands are potentially good places
to spot these bears. Grizzly bears are excellent swimmers,
though, and could be seen elsewhere in the Sound.
- Black bears are the smallest of the North American bears;
an average, adult male will weigh about 200 pounds. Like the
Grizzly, they will weigh less in the spring when they first
emerge from their dens, and more in the fall just before the
return to the den before winter. Although many people believe
black bears are always black, they may range in color from
jet black to white. Black is the most common color, but brown
and cinnamon colored black bears are seen rather frequently
in southcentral Alaska. They are excellent swimmers and could
potentially be seen almost anywhere in the Sound, except for
the islands of Montague and Hinchinbrook - where brown bears
are more prominent.
BLACK-TAILED DEER - These deer are native to
the wet, coastal rain forests of Southeast Alaska, but have
been introduced into areas in Prince William Sound where their
populations are now well established. They are smaller and
stockier than other members of the black-tailed deer family
with adult males (bucks) weighing on average around 120 pounds.
Their coat changes color between summer and winter - it is
more of a brown-gray color in winter and a red-gray color
BIRDS - Numerous species of birds live in Prince
William Sound at least part of the year, taking advantage
of its abundant food and habitat offerings. Following are
some of the most common: gulls, kittiwakes, murres, auklets,
puffins, terns, crows, murrelets, geese ducks, cormorants,
loons, grebes and bald eagles. Don’t forget to bring
your binoculars for some great bird watching!
EAGLES - With a wing span of seven feet in length
and weights of eight to fourteen pounds, Bald Eagles are North
America’s largest raptor. Like many raptors females
are larger than males. The Bald Eagle was named for its white
head and tail, which does not develop until the adult has
reached approximately five years of age. Bald Eagles feed
mainly upon fish taken from along the coastline, and thousands
of pairs of Bald Eagles make their nests on the spectacular
coastline of Prince William Sound.
- Both male and female puffins have the same markings, which
is most notably characterized by their large, colorful beaks.
Adults weigh about one and a quarter pounds and are fourteen
inches in length. Two species of puffins live in our waters:
the Horned Puffin and the Tufted Puffin. In summer it is easy
to distinguish between the two species since Tufted Puffins
have a tuft of feathers that curl back from each side of their
head while Horned Puffins do not. They belong to the family
Alcidae, and like other Alcids they spend most of their life
on the open ocean. Other alcids commonly found in Prince William
Sound include auklets and murres.