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Whales and Wildlife

     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.

     ORCA - 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.

      HUMPBACK 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.

     DALL’S 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.

      HARBOR 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.

      HARBOR 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.

      STELLER’S 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.

      SEA OTTERS - 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.

      GRIZZLY 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 - 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.

     SITKA 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 in summer.

     MARINE 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!

     BALD 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.

     PUFFINS - 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.


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