The Top 10 Most Dangerous Animals in Alaska
Alaska stands as the largest bastion of wilderness left in the United State. These vast swaths of untamed country are teeming with a dizzying array of wildlife. If it can bite, sting, or claw you, chances are it makes its home here. Humanity’s footprint remains relatively modest in the region and when venturing out into the backcountry, it’s clear this is animal territory and we are merely passing through. If you are one of the 56% of American adults who list snakes as their worst fear, you can breathe a sigh of relief, though, as Alaska in entirely snake-free. Other dangerous animals…not so much.
The abundance and variety of wildlife is a huge draw which helps drive Alaska’s thriving tourist industry. Don’t forget for one second, however, that you are in the presence of wild animals. Venturing too far off the beaten trail can put your safety in peril. And, gawking at animals from the road may cause a car accident so be careful as you drive. Below is The Advocates’ list of the 10 most dangerous wild animals of Alaska.
#10 Canadian Lynx
The smallest entry on our list is the Canadian Lynx, weighing in at only 18-24 pounds and measuring 2.5-3.5 feet long. These smallish big cats have razor-sharp teeth and large furry feet with claws. Their feet allow them to walk on top of the snow with great stealth. Despite their long legs, Lynxes are not particularly fast, relying on sneaking skills to hunt. They can, however, jump up to 25 feet.
Lynx may look like large furry house cats, but these boreal predators are quite fierce if cornered. While typically not a threat to humans, they pose a genuine threat to pets and livestock.
#9 Bald Eagle
Alaska is home to upwards of 30,000 bald eagles. These impressive birds can have a wingspan up to 8 feet in the larger females and 6.5 feet in the far more aggressive males. They can dive at 100 mph and attack with a set of 2 inch long talons which can exert 1,000 pounds per square inch! Despite Ben Franklin’s preference for the wild turkey, it’s easy to see why these majestic raptors were chosen for our national emblem.
Attacks on people by eagles are uncommon and remain atypical behavior. However, during mating season males do become more territorial. Like all large birds of prey, it’s best to give them a wide berth and enjoy them from a safe distance. Keep an eye on smaller pets and very young children if you spot eagles in the area.
#8 Stellar Sea Lions
Male sea lions can weigh almost 2,500 pounds and grow to nearly 11 feet long. The largest of the eared seals is a skilled marine hunter and can swim in bursts of up to 25 mph. Sea Lions remain mammals and spend much of their life cycle on land when not hunting.
Sea lions are normally more curious than aggressive when in the company of humans. That being said, it’s best not to get closer than 50 feet as they are unpredictable and have been known to give chase to both pets and humans. The bite of a seal is not normally fatal. Injuries can run the risk of becoming infected with ‘seal finger’, a potentially serious bacterial infection caused by mycoplasma from the blood or saliva of a seal. Left untreated, this condition can result in amputation and lead to infections in other areas of the body.
Wolverines are famous for their fierce nature and aggressive protection of their dens. In spite of a male weighing in at only 40 pounds, they can easily take down prey 10 times their size. Much like its X-Men namesake, the wolverine possesses large sharp claws. It uses these claws not only for attack but also to climb trees and burrow. Fearless, they are known to stand up to larger predators to defend a kill.
At one point these furry mustelids were hunted to the brink of extinction for their thick coats. However, recent sightings in Colorado and North Dakota mark the first in 100 years or more. While not on the Endangered Species list there is a current proposal to classify them as threatened. They occupy a larger roaming territory than other mammals of their size and may range as far as 15 miles a day. Being notoriously elusive and intelligent makes a wolverine sighting a treat indeed.
Stretching up to 16 feet and weighing over 4,000 pounds, walruses are known as the uncontested King of the Arctic. While both males and females have tusks, the males’ tusks can reach 3 feet or more in length. These mammoth sea mammals are relatively long-lived with a life span of 40 years and have a rich social life in their herds and pods.
Most attacks involving humans are against small boats or kayaks that get a little too close. In fact, a female walrus sank a small Russian boat last year when they approached her pups. Although there are also reports of them breaking the ice under a hunting party to launch an attack. During migration, hundreds of thousands of them congregate and pack the icy water and shorelines of Alaska’s coasts. It is pretty easy to see why the locals respect these herds’ personal space.
#5 Black Bear
Four distinct species of bear inhabit Alaska. The black bears inhabit a large portion of the state and are the one we are most used to in the lower 48. The Glacier Bear is a light tan-colored subspecies found primarily in the southeast of Alaska. Black bears are more common than their larger cousins with a local population twice that of grizzlies and polar bears.
A study found that a tiny percentage of black bears exhibit predatory tendencies toward humans. Although this is rare and considered abnormal behavior. Skittish and mostly vegetarian, these bears can usually be scared off and rarely pose any real threat to humans. If surprised or antagonized, however, they can be dangerous and people are occasionally mauled.
Wolves are found roaming across most of Alaska. Genetically speaking, the grey or timber wolf is the source of all modern breeds of dogs. Large males can weigh up to 145 pounds and females up to 100 pounds. While they are the ancestor to the ubiquitous household pet, the similarities end there. One wolf really does not pose much of a threat, but a wolf pack working in unison is one of nature’s most efficient killing machines.
As a hunting unit, the wolf pack is an elite team that uses cunning and ferocity to take down large animals and can even stand up to a grizzly or polar bear. Like man, they are also known to kill for fun and witnesses have seen them slaughter small herds without eating a single bite. Wolves are quite intelligent and possess a healthy fear of man. If you are lucky enough to hear their mighty howl at night while in the woods, take solace in the fact they are usually smart enough to keep their distance.
#3 Grizzly Bear
The large and aggressive grizzly bear is indigenous throughout the entire Alaskan range. They are known as brown bears when living near the coast. A subspecies indigenous to the Kodiak islands are nearly as large as their polar bear cousins. Grizzly bears are some of the biggest and most fearsome land predators in all of North America and have a ferocious reputation.
The grizzly bear has no fear of humans, making encounters with them particularly dangerous. They are fiercely territorial and may attack without warning if nearby. While a Black Bear would not normally consider a human to be food, we get no such free-pass from the grizzly. Although attacks are rare, they have occasionally been known to attack and eat humans.
It’s easy to think of Bullwinkle and write moose off as innocuous, gentle creatures wandering aimlessly through the woods. Nothing could be further from the truth! While it’s true that moose are not naturally aggressive toward people, they have no fear of humans and are easily provoked. They seem to harbor a natural dislike of dogs and have been known to go out of their way to stomp or kick dogs even if chained up.
Moose routinely weigh upwards of 1,500 pounds and males can have a rack of antlers over 6 feet wide. Imagine being run over by a VW beetle, but with horns. When moose attack they may charge, kick with front hooves, or stomp on you if you are on the ground. While charging it can attain speeds of up to 35 mph. Even so, if a moose does charge you, you’re better off running. Try to get a tree between you and it. Or better yet, duck into a building or car.
#1 Polar Bears
Arguably the king, and certainly largest, of the bear family is the Polar Bear. They live in the far north along the shoreline and out on the ice almost exclusively within the Arctic Circle. With less than 5,000 in the region, polar bears remain on the endangered list. Although these bears are slightly larger, the grizzly is the more aggressive of the two. A polar bear is just as likely to skirt around a human avoiding an encounter as to pursue a confrontation, that is as long as they are not hungry.
These white behemoths of the ice are gigantic. The largest polar bear on record was 12’ tall and weighed over 2,000 pounds. The polar bear is the only species of bear classified as a hypercarnivore, that is a diet of almost exclusively meat. These not-so-gentle-giants are intelligent, inquisitive, and absolutely ruthless hunters. It is one of the few animals known to hunt humans as food. It’s fortunate that they live in remote areas under the most extreme conditions, making human encounters with them rare. If you do encounter a polar bear in the wild, say your prayers and hope for the best.
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