Bear twinsWildlife Abounds!

Whales, bears, and otters may be Southeast Alaska's superstars, but they aren't the only fish in the sea.

wildlife checklist thumbnailOur mild climate, rich habitat, and relatively low human population make Sitka one of the best places to view wildlife anywhere. Timing is a more important factor than luck, usually, since animals and birds frequent Sitka in fairly predictable cycles. Click on the image to the right to view a wildlife checklist.

St. Lazaria IslandSt. Lazaria Island, a federal wildlife refuge at the mouth of Sitka Sound, is black with sea birds (puffins, murres, petrels, etc.) in the summer months. The sheer, volcanic cliffs are ideal habitat for these birds, and an equally wonderful habitat for bird watchers. Although you can’t go ashore, even large excursion boats can pull to within a few feet of the cliffs. Private wildlife charters, such as Esther G Tours (907-747-6481 or cell: 907-738-6481); Alaska Wildlife Tours (907-738-1062 or 907-747-3122); Sea Otter & Whale Quest (907-747-8100 or 1-888-747-8101); or Aquatic Alaska Adventure LLC (907-738-7873) are available for hire, and Allen Marine Tours (907-747-8100) operates scheduled wildlife tours of Sitka Sound including St. Lazaria.

On shore another wildlife must see is the Alaska Raptor Center (907-747-8662).The Alaska Raptor Center is a fully fledged (!) hospital for the care of wonded birds-of-prey such as eagles,hawks, and owls. By far, the majority of the patients are Alaskan bald eagles who have come by their injuries as a result of either accidental or deliberate harmful interaction with humans.Many times a year, a recovered bird is released into the wild--check with the local newspaper for announcements of planned releases. Seeing a magnificient bird like a bald eagle fly free again is moving beyond words.

The Alaska Raptor Center remains home to many of the birds that never regain their flight ability. Check out the habitat for flightless birds just off the deck to the rear of the main building.This is an exceptional opportunity to view these imposing birds up close in a wild setting. Prepare to feel humbled, however. Bald eagles have a demeanor of royalty, and seeing them this way is something akin to being presented at court.

Lastly, the Alaska Raptor Center has a beautiful nature trail accessible to Wheelchairs (it might help to bring a friend along to help push on the gravel sections). The trail is about a quarter mile in length, but traverses both a wetland bog (known locally as "muskegs") and a spruce/hemlock forest, and then follows the bank of the Indian River back to the center.

The Alaska Raptor Center is open daily from 8 am--4pm. There is a cost for viewing; all proceeds go to help the birds.

Fortress of the Bear is a safe, spectacular, educational place to view bears. It was created because of a desire to provide a humane alternative for Alaska’s urbanized bears, reducing the need for their destruction. Bears are provided a natural habitat for their protection, care and enrichment. 907-747-3032

Humpback whales are widely dispersed in the summer. In the early fall and winter, however, whales congregate here to feed on herring. Sitka's winter whale watching is the best in the world, and the most ecologically sound, since the whales are not courting and breeding as they are in Hawaii and Mexico. Attend the annual Sitka WhaleFest in November to see and learn more about marine wildlife. Call 907-747-8878 or Email: Humpback whale in Chatham Strait

Whales return again in February and March, as do other marine mammals like seals and sea lions. They're all back to feed on herring, which are moving close to shore to spawn. Bald eagles are especially thick at this time, too.

So, luck has little to do with wildlife viewing, though it certainly doesn't hurt. Once a school of forty leaping and cavorting Pacific white-sided dolphins surrounded a sight-seeing boat as it motored home to Sitka from Salisbury Sound. Another time, as a fog-bound boat drifted waiting for the weather to clear, a pod of a dozen orcas cruised silently out of the mist, circled the boat, and then departed as mysteriously as they came.

Thanks to Barbara Bingham.

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