The most dangerous animals in Alaska roam one of the great frontiers of the United States. Covering a whopping 663,000 square miles between the Arctic Ocean and the wild North Pacific, it’s a land untamed and largely untrodden. Carved fjords are topped by creaking ice fields, mighty glaciers cascade to wave-lashed bays, rivers teeming with salmon run through primeval woodlands of fir and spruce and hulking pine. There’s really nowhere else like it on the planet.
Such a hardy land has bred some seriously hardy creatures. Yep, you’ll need to contend with roaring grizzlies and proud polar bears in these parts, not to mention marauding moose herds and gluttonous wolverines.
This list offers just a glimpse at some of the most feared fauna this feral place can conjure…
The great grizzly is arguably the most iconic mammal in Alaska – nay, all of North America. A creature of myth and legend, it was held in awe by the Native Americans and has played a part in everything from star constellations to visceral Hollywood flicks like The Revenant. Despite dramatic drops in population counts, there’s still an estimated 30,000 grizzlies in the Last Frontier state, which is by far the highest in the contiguous US overall.
Incidents involving grizzly bears attacking humans are actually rather rare. However, that doesn’t stop these hulking beasts from being some of the most feared predators in the Alaskan outback. If startled, grizzlies are known to fight and will become extremely aggressive when around young or food in particular. Attacks are always more common in the fall months, in the immediate run up to hibernation.
Talking of their attack, the grizzly bear has a whole arsenal of formidable weapons up its sleeve. The elongated claws are among the largest and most scythed in the bear world. That makes them ideal for digging mud, but also perfect for mauling flesh. They can also weigh above 400kg and stand up to three metres tall.
The polar bear is the biggest of all the bears, not to mention a majestic, mighty animal that’s worthy of awe. There aren’t too many in Alaska these days. In fact, the entire population of the state is estimated to be around just 4,700. That’s following decades of habitat destruction in the name of oil exploration, and trophy hunting, which went on unchecked into at least the early 1970s.
There’s no doubt that the polar is among the most dangerous animals in Alaska! With a beefy stature that can see the largest male specimens weighing in at a car-crushing 770 kilograms, they’re enough to dwarf even the formidable grizzly. On top of that, polar bears boast tough, spiked canines and 42 interior teeth, and have unique adaptations – fatty tissue, scooped claws – that let them hunt like pros on the ice.
Because they live in such remote quarters of the state, these massive bears very rarely come into contact with humans. That means they haven’t built up the same level of wariness, and are often willing to prowl and attack just as they would with normal prey. In total, there’s been just over 70 recorded attacks on humans since 1870, with around 20 of those proving fatal. Nevertheless, scientists do warn that disappearing sea ice makes future incidents a little more likely.
Ask any local and they’ll tell you – there’s hardly anything more disconcerting than a charging moose! Who wants a hefty 680 kilos of prime Yukon bulk bearing down on them? Throw in a couple of gnarled antlers that can span a mega 1.8 metres from top to bottom and you’ve got one darn daunting prospect.
One of the problems here is that moose are rarely thought of as being among the most dangerous animals in Alaska. Outsiders prefer the image of the friendly grazer with a comedic look. The truth is that moose are very easy to scare and become defensive fast. They won’t hesitate to charge and that means the weight of a small car whizzing headlong at a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it 35 miles per hour!
An extra problem is that moose incursions into Alaskan towns and cities are becoming more and more common. Waking up to a herd of these massive beasts strolling your cul-de-sac in Anchorage is relatively normal sight these days. On the flip side, nearly 90% of locals actually say they think moose encounters make life a little more interesting, although others aren’t so keen on seeing their veg patch devoured in a single morning!
Alaska is one of the hotspots of the Pacific walrus. Scientists put their number at around the 200,000 mark, with most residing near the rocky shores and in the icy waters of the Bering and Chukchi seas at the northern and western extremities of the state. If you are lucky enough to come across one, you probably won’t miss it – these guys can weigh a mega two tonnes and come in at 12 feet long from whisker to back fin.
Because of where they live – on hard-to-reach parts of the coast near the Arctic Circle – Walruses rarely cross paths with humans. When they do, there are occasions when the creature proves its place on this list of the most dangerous animals in Alaska. There are fabled reports of walruses capsizing boats in Spitzbergen back in 1918, for example, and other stories of Greenlander fishing folk being set upon for their catch.
These days, lots of visitors to Alaska will actively go in search of walruses as part of their frontier safari. Perhaps the most famous stomping ground of the lot can be found in the amazing Walrus Islands State Game Sanctuary. You’ll need to grab an air taxi to reach that remote land near Dillingham, but you will get a glimpse of the feral hinterland of the state and some of its most amazing fauna.
Anyone who’s ever read White Fang will know that wolves are a quintessential part of the North American wilderness. They roam from the Rockies of the contiguous USA to the jagged peaks of British Columbia. In Alaska, there are thought to be as many as 11,000 individuals. What’s more, some of the largest wolf specimens ever recorded have been found in the state, weighing in at upwards of 50 kilos!
Unlike with the grizzly, wolves only really become dangerous when they work together. It’s very much about strength in numbers. And boy do the packs of Alaska get some success…they’ve been known to hunt massive moose and even take down bears. They organise into groups of around eight and will stalk a territory that can cover over 6,000 square kilometers or more.
From Dracula to Little Red Riding Hood, the wolf has inspired fear and awe in human culture for centuries. These days, the vast majority of attacks on humans are in Eastern Europe, the Alps and Russia. There have actually been very few recorded incidents in North America. On top of that, wolf populations have suffered throughout the 20th century and are only now returning to strength following the 1972 Endangered Species Act.
Unlike their roaming brown cousins and their arctic compadres, black bears tend to prefer the less-remote portions of Alaska. They cover territory from the Inside Passage all the way to the snowy ranges around Denali, and number about 100,000 in total.
A tad stouter and leaner than grizzlies, black bears can stand at 5-6 foot and typically weigh around the 150kg mark. That means they’re not quite as formidable on the eye, but we think it hardly makes a difference when you come face to face with those thick-based claws and muscular forearms.
Thankfully, black bears are known to be among the least confrontational of all the bears in the USA and Alaska. They actively try to avoid crossing paths with us, and often resort to bluff charges before actually pouncing. That said, there have been a number of high-profile black bear attacks. Most were in NPS-managed reserves and usually start because of poorly stored food. Follow the guidelines when you camp, folks!
It should hardly come as a surprise that the wolverine makes it onto our list of the most dangerous animals in Alaska. These voracious critters did inspire one of the coolest of all the X-Men out there, remember?
They actually inhabit huge swathes of the planet, from the boreal woods of Siberia to the forests of the Baltic. In the USA, numbers have declined in the contiguous states, but there are still significant populations north of the Canadian border and in the frontier.
Wolverines will come to a fight armed with all sorts of adaptations that would make it a pretty formidable opponent for any prey, including humans. Long, razor-sharp claws join with an uber-strong jaw that will lock shut. Then come the twisted molar teeth at the back of the mouth – perfect for lacerating flesh. Finally, you’ve got specially padded web feet to deal with. They help the critter whiz across Alaska’s powdery snow and tundra.
Are there wolves in Alaska?
There are. In fact, some estimations put the state’s timber wolf population at a whopping 11,000 or more! There’s no question that they’re dangerous, what with expert hunting skills and a pack mentality that can combine to bring down prey many times their size. However, wolves can’t really be listed alongside the most vicious animals in Alaska. The reason? They are more thoughtful predators than most and typically try to avoid human contact.
Are there snakes in Alaska?
Ophidiophobes need not worry up here in the frontier. There are zero snakes in Alaska. Zilch. Nada. Yep, this corner of the Untied States doesn’t have any slinky predators in its outback. That’s probably down to the sheer extremes of the environment, which is a far cry from the tropical climbs where you find most of the planet’s formidable snakes and their venom pouches.
Are there lions in Alaska?
Of course, there’s no such thing as a lion a la East Africa in Alaska. However, you might encounter mountain lions this far north in America. Traditionally, it was thought that the landscapes were a little too hard for these creatures, but conservationists now predict that populations will (or already have emerged) thanks to increasing numbers showing in Pacific Northwest states and Canada. Also known as cougars, we’re talking about an elegant and majestic predator with a range that extends as far as the tip of the South American Andes!
The most dangerous animals in Alaska in summary
Alaska might not have any venom-carrying snakes or itch-inducing spiders, but it does come with a whole load of pretty hefty mammals that you’ll want to look out for. Grizzlies obviously make the headlines, but what about their smaller cousins, the black bear, and their gigantic pals, the polar bear? On top of those, you’ve got wolf packs that can scour hundreds of clicks a day for prey, not to mention spiked-tooth walruses and wolverines that are always on the lookout for their next meal.