Home » Wildlife Watching in Alaska: How to Do It Responsibly and Safely

Wildlife Watching in Alaska: How to Do It Responsibly and Safely

by Terrye

Alaska, a vast and wild frontier, offers some of the most spectacular wildlife viewing opportunities in the world. From the majestic brown bears of Katmai to the awe-inspiring whales of the Kenai Fjords, the state’s diverse ecosystems are home to a remarkable array of creatures. However, observing these animals in their natural habitat comes with a responsibility to do so safely and ethically. This comprehensive guide provides essential tips and insights for responsibly and safely watching wildlife in Alaska.

Understanding Alaska’s Wildlife

Before embarking on a wildlife watching adventure, it’s crucial to understand the variety of species you might encounter in Alaska. The state’s wildlife includes brown and black bears, moose, caribou, wolves, foxes, eagles, whales, seals, and countless bird species. Each of these animals has specific behaviors and needs, and understanding them can enhance your viewing experience and ensure your safety and their well-being.

Best Times and Places for Wildlife Viewing

  1. Bears: Coastal areas like Katmai National Park and Lake Clark National Park are famous for brown bear viewing, especially during the salmon runs in July and September. For black bears, the Tongass National Forest is an excellent location.
  2. Whales: The waters off the Kenai Peninsula, Glacier Bay National Park, and the Inside Passage are prime spots for whale watching. The best time is from June to September, with peak sightings in July and August.
  3. Moose and Caribou: Denali National Park and the Anchorage area, including Kincaid Park, are great for spotting moose and caribou, particularly in the early mornings and evenings.
  4. Birds: Alaska is a birdwatcher’s paradise, especially during the spring migration (April to May) and fall (August to September). The Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge and the Copper River Delta are notable hotspots.

Safety Tips for Wildlife Watching

  1. Maintain a Safe Distance: Always keep a safe and respectful distance from wildlife. For bears, a minimum of 300 feet is recommended. Use binoculars or a telephoto lens for a closer view.
  2. Never Feed Wildlife: Feeding wild animals can alter their natural behaviors, make them dependent on human food, and lead to dangerous encounters.
  3. Stay Calm and Quiet: Loud noises and sudden movements can startle animals. Remain calm and quiet to avoid disturbing them.
  4. Be Bear Aware: When in bear country, carry bear spray, know how to use it, and make noise while hiking to avoid surprise encounters.
  5. Travel in Groups: There is safety in numbers. Traveling in groups can deter wildlife from approaching too closely.

Ethical Wildlife Watching

  1. Respect Wildlife and Their Habitat: Stay on designated trails and roads. Venturing off-path can damage fragile ecosystems and stress the animals.
  2. Avoid Interfering with Animals: Never attempt to attract, chase, or harass wildlife. Observe their behavior for signs of distress and back away if they appear agitated or stressed.
  3. Be Patient: Wildlife watching often requires patience. Wait quietly and give animals space to go about their natural behaviors.
  4. Educate Yourself: Learn about the wildlife and their habitats before your trip. Knowledge about their behaviors and needs will enhance your experience and help you make responsible decisions.

Choosing Responsible Wildlife Tours

  1. Research Tour Operators: Choose tour operators committed to sustainable and ethical wildlife practices. Look for those affiliated with conservation organizations or adhering to wildlife viewing guidelines.
  2. Small Group Tours: Opt for small group tours to minimize environmental impact and enjoy a more personal and less intrusive experience.
  3. Check for Permits and Credentials: Reputable tour operators should have the necessary permits and credentials for conducting wildlife tours in Alaska.
  4. Ask Questions: Don’t hesitate to ask tour operators about their practices and how they ensure the safety and well-being of both the wildlife and their guests.

Photographing Wildlife

  1. Use the Right Equipment: A good telephoto lens is essential for capturing wildlife from a safe distance.
  2. Be Patient and Respectful: Good wildlife photography requires patience. Wait for natural behaviors and avoid disturbing the animals for the sake of a photo.
  3. Understand Your Camera: Familiarize yourself with your camera settings to quickly and quietly capture shots without disturbing the wildlife.

Preparing for Your Wildlife Watching Trip

  1. Dress Appropriately: Wear layers and waterproof clothing. Alaska’s weather can be unpredictable, and you’ll often be outdoors for extended periods.
  2. Bring Necessary Gear: In addition to your camera and binoculars, pack insect repellent, sun protection, and a first aid kit.
  3. Stay Informed: Check local regulations and advisories, especially in national parks and wildlife refuges.
  4. Plan for Emergencies: Have a plan in case of emergencies. Carry a map, compass, or GPS device, especially in remote areas.

Engaging with Local Communities

  1. Learn from Locals: Local guides and residents have invaluable knowledge about wildlife and the best viewing spots. Engaging with them can enrich your experience.
  2. Support Local Economies: Consider staying in local accommodations, eating at local restaurants, and purchasing souvenirs from local artisans.

Conservation and Advocacy

  1. Support Conservation Efforts: Consider contributing to wildlife conservation organizations or participating in citizen science projects.
  2. Educate Others: Share your knowledge and experiences with others. Advocacy and education are vital for the continued protection of Alaska’s wildlife.

Wildlife watching in Alaska can be an awe-inspiring experience, offering a unique connection with nature and a deeper appreciation for the state’s natural wonders. By following these guidelines, you can ensure that your adventure is not only memorable but also responsible and safe for both you and the wildlife. Alaska’s wilderness calls for respect and stewardship, and as visitors to this magnificent land, it is our responsibility to ensure that its beauty and wildlife continue to thrive for generations to come.

You may also like

Leave a Comment

This website uses cookies to improve your experience. We'll assume you're ok with this, but you can opt-out if you wish. Accept Read More