• Winter light on the Fairweather Range

    Glacier Bay

    National Park & Preserve Alaska

Animals

brown bear on coast
Coastal brown bear at sunset
NPS  G. Martinez
 

The ocean and land environments in Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve are closely intertwined. Marine waters make up nearly one fifth of the park and no point of land is more than 30 miles from the coast. This means that the lives of virtually all the animals at Glacier Bay are tied to its productive marine waters or the biologically rich near shore environment.

 

Marine Mammals
For marine mammals, of course, the ocean is home. Each summer humpback whales return to the bay from their wintering grounds near Hawaii to feed on the abundant small schooling fish such as sand lance and juvenile pollack. Minke and killer whales along with harbor and Dall's porpoises also feed in the park's productive near-shore waters. Steller sea lions congregate on rocky islands to mate or to rest. Thousands of harbor seals breed and nurture their pups on the floating ice in Johns Hopkins Inlet and among the rocky reefs of the Beardslee Islands. Sea otters are rapidly colonizing Glacier Bay as well as park waters in Icy Strait and Cross Sound.

 

Land Mammals
Many land animals also use the marine environment for foraging and travel. Moose and bears, for example, are accomplished long-distance swimmers that are frequently seen "dog paddling" their way across the bay. Bears work the beaches when the tide is low turning over rocks looking for tasty barnacles, clams and other intertidal life. Wolves and coyotes find the traveling easier along the edge of tall beach grass rather than fighting through alder thickets. At times, even the most upland of animals like marmots and mountain goats are drawn to the water's edge to nibble seaweed or to lick salt spray off beach rocks. The ocean is truly the common element that bonds the wildlife of the park.

The park hosts healthy populations of land mammals. The mountain goat and brown bear were quick to reinvade after the glaciers' retreat. The coyote, moose and wolf have moved in more recently, but are now established in the park. Black bears prowl the forested portions of the lower bay, and the glacier bear, a rare color phase of the black bear, is occasionally spotted. River otters are widespread along with marten, mink and weasel, while the wolverine is scarcer and rarely sighted. The Alsek River delta in Glacier Bay National Preserve is home to lynx, snowshoe hare and beaver -- species that have reached the coast from the interior by traveling along the river corridor.

 

Birds
Seabirds spend most of their time searching for food in the marine waters and come ashore only to rest or to breed. Thousands of seabirds nest on cliffs and rocky shores within the bay or on the park's outer coast. Molting and migrating geese and sea ducks find refuge in quiet arms of the bay. Bald eagles nest in tall cottonwood trees or on cliffs along much of the park's shoreline. Newly vegetated hillsides support great numbers of nesting songbirds, including many neotropical migrants. The shallow waters and sloping beaches of the Beardslee Islands are important foraging and breeding areas for shorebirds, seabirds, and waterfowl. Arctic terns and jaegers prefer the barren glacial outwashes near the glaciers for nest sites, habitat that is rapidly disapearing as vegetation returns to the upper bay.

 

See Also:

Alaska Wildlife Notebook Series
From bats to whales, this is an online ADF&G guide to over 150 Alaskan animals

 

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