Each year, Alaska welcomes over one million tourists to the state. Located in the Northwestern region of North America, Alaska boasts a diverse array of wildlife for tourists to enjoy.
Alaska is home to the “Big 5,” including wolves, caribous, moose, bears, and Dall sheep. Apart from land-residing animals, Alaska has a captivating variety of oceanic wildlife, such as orcas and humpback whales.
When visiting and enjoying Alaskan wildlife, it is essential to remember the dangers that several species may pose to humans.
Here are seven of Alaska’s most dangerous animals.
1. Polar Bears
Scientific name: Ursus maritimus
Habitat: Arctic sea ice, islands, water
Conservation status: Vulnerable
Quick summary: Polar bears are solitary animals that are strong swimmers and can run at 25 miles per hour. They have long, sharp teeth and huge claws that can kill a human.
Polar bears are exclusively found in the northern hemisphere, with an estimated population of between 4 and 7 thousand in Alaska. Polar bears tend to feast on seals and the carcasses of whales.
The polar bear is one of the most iconic creatures in Alaska, with its white fur and black nose making it instantly recognizable among wildlife enthusiasts. Polar bears are solitary animals who usually only come together during mating season or when searching for food.
The polar bear’s metabolism doesn’t slow down much during the summer when sea ice melts and food becomes scarce.
As powerful predators, these majestic animals inhabit parts of the Arctic Circle and have adapted to the frigid temperatures of their environment.
What makes polar bears dangerous?
- Polar bears are considered dangerous animals that will hunt humans if food sources become scarce.
- Polar bears are capable of devastating damage to humans due to their bodily composition. In fact, male adult polar bears can weigh a whopping 1,500 lbs. The size of their paws can reach an astounding 12 inches.
- Apart from the striking weight of polar bears, they have a substantial number of teeth at 42. Polar bears have 2-inch canines that allow them to shred through the hefty tissue of their prey.
- As common food sources for polar bears continue to deplete, polar bear attacks on humans have steadily increased. Over the past several years, over twenty polar bear attacks have been recorded.
Scientific name: Alces alces gigas
Habitat: Streams, ponds
Conservation status: Least Concern
Quick summary: Moose range from 800-pound cows to 1,600-pound bulls and can become dangerous when hungry, stressed, or provoked with their huge antlers.
Moose are considered to be the largest members of the deer family. A set of antlers can identify male moose. Though moose in Alaska enjoy a diet of largely vegetation, they can pose dangers to humans.
Interestingly, moose are found only in limited areas of southeast Alaska and are essentially absent from the major southeast islands. Moose are relatively recent arrivals to some regions of southeast Alaska.
They can weigh up to 1,600 pounds and are herbivorous, eating willow, birch, aspen leaves, twigs, sedges, equisetum, pond weeds, and grasses.
What makes moose dangerous?
- While moose will not purposefully hunt humans as a food source, they can undoubtedly become agitated by humans or domestic pets such as dogs. Moose can charge, trample, or even kick humans as a defense mechanism when agitated.
- A moose charging at a human can quickly become fatal, as adult moose weigh between 800 and 1,600 lbs. If their weight alone isn’t enough to alarm you, Moose can stand at over five feet!
- There are many more moose than bears populating the state of Alaska. On average, moose attack around five to ten individuals each year.
3. North American Porcupine
Scientific name: Erethizon dorsatum
Habitat: Forests, tundra
Conservation status: Least Concern
Quick summary: The North American porcupine has sharp, barbed quills that are as dangerous and are like sharp daggers that can kill.
Don’t let the small stature of these creatures fool you. North American porcupines can injure animals and pets through their spikey quills. They are alert animals, with sharp senses allowing them to detect when danger is near.
Porcupines can be encountered all around Alaska.
A study published in Mammalia adds that they can become fearsome killers, especially if multiple porcupines exist. They can run backward, cornering predators to protect themselves.
What makes porcupines dangerous?
- Porcupines boast sharp quills, which they utilize to defend themselves against potential predators such as humans. These quills can easily pierce through human skin and can be deadly in more severe instances.
- If a porcupine feels threatened, it will generally release a shrill scream before attacking.
- Porcupines use tail rattling, quill erection, stamping, and growling to defend themselves.
Scientific name: Rangifer tarandus
Habitat: Arctic and mountain tundra, forests
Conservation status: Vulnerable
Quick summary: The caribou, if provoked, can use their antlers to attack.
Commonly referred to as reindeer, caribou can be found throughout Asia, North America, and Europe. Like the North American porcupine, these herbivores can certainly cause human injury.
Unfortunately, by 2021, the Western Arctic caribou herd in Alaska declined by almost 23% over the past couple of years. Increased predation, hunting pressures, and changing weather patterns contribute to their decline.
Wildlife biologists add that changing climate significantly impacts the herd’s migration patterns. Milder fall and winter weather affect migration.
What makes caribous dangerous?
- When unprovoked, caribou tend to have a calm and non-aggressive demeanor toward humans. However, caribous can be territorial animals and act upon them.
- Caribous are large animals weighing up to seven-hundred pounds and can stand up to almost five feet. Combine their physique with their speed, which can be fatal.
- When caribous attack humans, though rare, they typically utilize their antlers to defend themselves.
5. Interior Alaskan Wolf
Scientific name: Canis lupus pambasileus
Habitat: Arctic tundra, subalpine, alpine, boreal forests
Conservation status: Secure
Quick summary: Although they rarely attack people, wolves can kill in predatory attacks.
Interior Alaskan wolves (also referred to as the Yukon wolf) reside in interior regions of Alaska and parts of North America, such as British Columbia.
Interior Alaskan wolves are a subspecies of the gray wolf. These wolves generally prey on Moose, Dall sheep, and Caribou.
The wolf is a large canine that can grow up to six feet long and weigh 130 pounds. They have thick fur coats that range from grayish-brown to blackish-brown in color, depending on their subspecies.
They also have excellent eyesight and hearing, which allows them to locate food even in low-light conditions.
Wolves are very social animals who communicate with one another using vocalizations such as howling, yipping, and barking as well as body language like tail wagging or bowing down submissively.
Climate change has significantly impacted Alaskan wolf populations; rising temperatures have caused snowpack levels to drop faster than usual, leading to decreased prey availability for wolves throughout the state.
What makes Interior Alaskan wolves dangerous?
- Though wolves typically do not attack or prey on humans, it occasionally happens in Alaska.
- The Interior Alaskan wolf is an incredibly powerful animal, weighing between 85 and 124 pounds depending on the sex of the wolf.
- As these wolves can hunt large animals such as moose and Caribou, they can easily attack, injure, or kill a human.
6. Grizzly Bear
Scientific name: Ursus arctos horribilis
Habitat: Prairies, forests, woodlands, alpine meadows
Conservation status: Threatened
Quick summary: The Grizzly bear can be aggressive if they come across humans in their territory.
Grizzly bears can be found throughout most regions of Alaska, as well as in Russia, China, Japan, Canada, and several areas of the United States.
Grizzly bear populations thrive in Alaska, with some parts hosting as many as one bear per square mile. Grizzly bears in Alaska have been noted as being smart and curious animals.
Alaska is home to close to 32,000 bears. Found throughout North America’s northernmost state, these magnificent animals are both powerful and deadly predators.
They are amongst the largest land mammals in the world, with adult males reaching lengths up to eight feet long and weighing up to 1,500 pounds!
Brown bears are usually solitary animals but can sometimes be found living in groups called sloths; this occurs mainly when females mate with multiple males resulting in mixed litters.
In the wild, these animals generally live an average lifespan of about 25 years and spend their time foraging for food or hibernating during winter months whenever temperatures become too low.
What makes grizzly bears dangerous?
- Grizzly bears generally avoid interacting with humans. However, these bears will attack if they feel threatened.
- Grizzly bears can weigh an astounding fifteen-hundred pounds. They also have sharp claws that can easily shred through human skin.
- In Alaska, grizzly bears rarely ever attack humans. A grizzly bear attack on a human in Alaska occurs every three or four years.
7. American Black Bear
Scientific name: Ursus americanus
Habitat: Mountains, forests
Conservation status: Least Concern
Quick summary: The American black bear will attack humans when provoked.
American black bears are considered the smallest bear in North America, but they are still quite capable of harming humans. Around 100,000 American black bears reside in the state of Alaska.
These bears are around 29 inches tall and generally weigh between 180-200 pounds (with some weighing a whopping 350 pounds).
They can range in color from white to jet black and feature a straight facial profile and claws that rarely grow longer than one and a half inches. Today there are around 100,000 black bears in Alaska.
What makes American black bears dangerous?
- American Black Bears will attack humans if they are provoked. However, these bears rarely attack humans. On average, North America has one fatal black bear attack per year. Since 2010, there have been 16 deadly black bear attacks on humans.
- Black bears will typically only attack in circumstances where they are protecting their cubs, food, or space.
- American Black Bears can “slap” humans with their claws, which can be as wide as nine inches when spread. Though their claws are not best suited for holding onto prey, these scratches can be painful and even become infected if not medically attended to.
This video shows black bears hunting for fish:
While Alaska is home to many animals capable of severely harming humans, most will rarely attack and instead prefer to avoid interacting with humans.
One of the most crucial principles to remember when taking in remarkable Alaskan wildlife is to respect every animal you encounter. To prevent an attack from occurring, be sure not to approach wild animals like black bears and give them plenty of space.