Often, we are asked tons of questions about moose and bears. Will we see one during our stay? What do the bears eat? How big are they?
Glacier Bay is full of wildlife. From bears and moose to eagles, Ermines, and even porcupines. We’ve made a list of the most common wildlife guests will see here, and added a little bit of information for those curious wildlife viewers:
Just as with moose, sea otters are a “new comer” to Glacier Bay. These cuties began recolonizing the waters after over one-hundred years of absence due to over-hunting, and the population has gone from zero to almost 9,000 in the last 20 years!
Sea otters spot the waters of the Icy Strait and Glacier Bay, and occasionally, a mother otter can be spotted with her pup lying across her chest. Pups weigh up to 5lbs at birth and live atop of their mother’s stomachs until they are weaned. Adult males grow to be about 5 feet and 80-100lbs (with females 1/3 their size), and all have a lifespan of up to twenty years (if not made prey). As they get older, their face gets whiter. Their diet includes clams, mussels, crabs, and other invertebrates, and they can dive as deep as 250 feet to reach them while foraging. Sea otters eat up to 25% of their body mass, and bathe, eat, and sleep while floating on their backs!
Fun fact: Sea otters have no blubber for insulation, but rather, have the densest fur of any mammals to keep warm- up to one million hairs per square inch!
Stellar Sea Lion
Though not unique to southeast Alaska, stellar sea lions are the most common marine mammal you will see while visiting- from established rookeries in the national park to bugging the fisherman at the Gustavus dock for a fish carcass. Rather than migrating, sea lions will establish a “haul out” on offshore rocks that will become the center of their hunting and mating grounds. Glacier Bay’s South Marble Island is known to have quite a few sea lions!
When born, these blubbery creatures will weigh 50 pounds! Males grow to be up to 1,200 pounds, while females are 580 pounds. Males can be identified by their prominent, broad foreheads, muscular necks, and dark coloration on the neck and chest. Females have a buff coloration on their backs. Males live up to 20 years and females up to 30 years.
Fun fact: Males don’t hold territories on rookeries until they are between nine and thirteen years old.
Harbor seals are what we call the graceful puppies of the sea. They can be identified by their dappled gray coats, big, round eyes, and their cute little noses. As adults, they are only 5-6 feet long and up to 280 pounds. The average lifespan is between 26-35 years. They are known for their aquatically adapted anatomy, allowing them to dive up to 1,640 feet and remain submerged for over 20 minutes.
Up to 1,700 seals assemble in John Hopkins Inlet each summer, hauled out on the ice patches for pupping and mating. They produce only one pup per year. Pups are born between May and mid-July, and they are able to swim almost immediately at birth! During winter, harbor seals will spend 80% of their time in the water.
Fun fact: Sea lion flippers cannot support their bodies on land. Rather, when hauled out on the ice, they scoot around on their big bellies!
We have an entire posted dedicated to the mighty humpback that you can read here. Humpback whales are abundant in Glacier Bay during the summer months. After their long migratory journey from the southern Pacific waters, these giant beauties will hunt and feed for almost 23 hours a day while here. They are very active creatures and are a treat to see, from breaching to tail-lobbing, and everything in between!
Though orcas do not have a migratory ritual to and from Glacier Bay like the humpbacks, they are often spotted traveling through here, or even hunting. The two populations of orcas that we see are Resident and Transient. Resident killer whales are known to be fish eaters, while transients feed on both fish and marine mammals. In addition, Transient killer whales are larger and will have a more pointed dorsal fin, while Resident killer whales will have a rounded tip.
These unique mammals reproduce slowly, at one pup per 4 to 6 years. Their lifespan is known to be up to 63 years for females, and 36 years for males. Orcas weigh up to 13,000 pounds and grow up to 27 feet long.
Often confused with dolphins (the difference is in their appearances), harbor porpoise are the smallest cetaceans around these parts, averaging about 5 feet long and 120 pounds. Their dorsal fin and short spouts will make them seem like very tiny versions of humpback whales. With stocky bodies and blunt stouts, porpoise will feed on schooling fish, eating about 10% of their body fat each day. They have dark grey or brown coloring, with a lighter coloration on their sides.
Seabirds and Other Marine Life
There are an abundance of seabirds that migrate to Glacier Bay. By abundance, we mean 281 species! For this post, we will focus on the most exciting birds (in our opinion, of course): Puffins. Puffins are easily recognizable and the most popular Alaskan seabird. The two types we see are the Tufted and Horned puffins.
Puffins are recognizable by their large, colorful bill and beautiful black and white coloration. Tufted puffins are named for their tufts of feathers that curl back on each side of their head. Both have webbed feet and sharp claws used to scratch out burrows for nesting underground. They nest in May and by July, a chick is hatched.
Puffins are built for swimming rather than flying. From land, they will dive off of cliffs to gain enough speed for flying, and will fly close to the water. Most spend winter in water rather than land, and young puffins will spend the summer of their first year at open sea.
Fun Fact: Puffins use their feet to navigate while swimming and flying.
For more information on the Birds of Glacier Bay, click here.
For more information on wildlife around Glacier Bay, click here.
Tips for wildlife viewers:
- Keep a low profile: Don’t make sounds to get an animals attention. Remember, if your presences is causing the animal to stop it’s natural behavior- give it more space. Be respectful of nesting or feeding areas
- Right time: Dawn and dusk are when species are most active. Low tides expose tide pools, while midday is great for seeing eagles and hawks
- Look for signs of wildlife: Tracks, droppings, trails- the works. Use tracking books, etc., for more information on what signs to look for based on species.
- Help keep wildlife wild: NEVER FEED A WILD ANIMAL!
Read about some of the excursions we offer that include wildlife viewing: