by Jackie Holland, The Telegraph, October 22, 2018
Wildlife abounds in Alaska’s untamed wilderness. Look out for the Big Five: bears, moose, Dall sheep, caribou and wolves.
The throngs of wildlife that course below the glacial waters, and glide above them, are legion too. Bald eagles soar overhead, whales breach in the sea and salmon make a dramatic journey upriver every summer.
Cruise lines offer a choice of excursions to get you close to the creatures. Here are some examples:
Bears, caribou and moose
An estimated 100,000 black bears and 35,000 brown bears live in Alaska; they lumber through the vast pine forests and feed at salmon-rich rivers. A cruise followed by a land tour offers the best chance of seeing them as well as other Big Five animals.
Princess Cruises offers a seven-day cruise from Vancouver to Anchorage followed by a four-day land tour. You step off your ship onto a waiting rail car that delivers you to your Princess Wilderness Lodge near Denali National Park – one of the world's most spectacular wildlife sanctuaries. A shuttle bus takes you into the park where you can join a coach tour, raft the Nenana River or experience a helicopter flightseeing trip.
As well as bears, you may encounter caribou, moose, wolves, Dall sheep and bald eagles. Denali stretches 91 miles into middle Alaska. Keep your eyes peeled as your tour bus takes you along the park’s rugged road and you may spot a mother bear with her cubs.
Look across the tundra for a roaming herd of caribou. The most distinguishing characteristic is their antlers that can grow to 53 inches.
Moose may stand 6ft at the shoulder, but that doesn't mean they're easy to spot as their earthy tones blend perfectly with their surroundings. You may see something stirring in the brush as a huge moose rises and wanders off. Moose enjoy swimming, too, so search for antlers poking out of lakes.
Denali Explorer cruise and tour (HA4) from £1,337pp (0344 338 8663; princess.com), departures from May to September 2019.
While it's best to scale the tundra to locate moose and bears, to find a Dall sheep, look up. They travel in bands upon high-altitude ridges and feed on mountain flora.
Rams are distinguished by their large curled horns. It's likely you will see them while riding on the Wilderness Express as part of Celebrity Cruises’ cruise tour.
10-night Alaska Goldrush Adventure Cruise Tour from £1,549pp (0844 493 20920; celebritycruises.com) includes three days staying in lodges and a ride in the glass-domed rail cars of the Wilderness Express.
There's nothing more exhilarating than the sight of a mammoth 40-ton humpback breaking the sea’s surface. During summer, more than 2,000 of them feed in the sea off Alaska, providing plenty of chances for viewings.
Killer (orca) and beluga whales are equally abundant and at Icy Strait Point it is not uncommon to spot a whale while walking along the shore.
Royal Caribbean offers a whale and marine mammals boat excursion from Icy Strait Point to Point Adolphus, one of Alaska’s premier whale-watching destinations (tour price: adults $179 (£135); children $109 (£82.50)).
Seven-night Alaska Glaciers cruise departing Seattle on August 9, 2019 from £1,489pp (0844 493 4005; royalcaribbean.co.uk).
The bald eagle is the national bird of the USA. Despite what its name suggests, the bird is not actually bald – its plumage is mainly brown while its head and tail are white. The bird holds the record for the biggest nest ever built by any animal species at 13ft deep, 8ft wide and weighing a ton.
Some 40,000 bald eagles reside in Alaska, most nesting near water for easy fishing. They are one of more than 300 species of birds that can be found here. Others include horned and tufted puffins, kittiwakes, trumpeter swans and red-tailed hawks.
Noble Caledonia 15-night expedition aboard the small ship Le Soleal takes you along Alaska’s Inside Passage in the company of wildlife experts. For a close-up experience the on-board fleet of Zodiac craft is used to explore small coves, glaciers and inlets and to land on isolated spots teeming with wildlife and bird colonies.
15-night cruise departing August 9, 2019 from £8,695pp. Price includes flights, overnight B&B in Vancouver and Anchorage, 12 nights full board on Le Soleal with open bar, expedition team, all shore excursions and gratuities (noble-caledonia.co.uk; 020 7752 0000).
During summer, thousands of salmon join the great spawning migration, making gravity-defying leaps up waterfalls and streams, attracting bears to the riverbanks to fill up on protein before going into hibernation.
Disney Cruise Line offers a fishing trip to Game Creek aboard a six-passenger cabin cruiser. You are provided with instructions, hip boots and all the gear needed to spin cast (or fly fish, for those with experience) along the banks.
Expect to catch steelhead salmon in May and early June, pink salmon from late June to end-September and silver salmon from late August to late-September. You may also catch char and cutthroat trout any time of year (excursion cost: $275pp (£208)).
Seven-night Alaskan Cruise round-trip from Vancouver from £2,639pp with departures in July, August and September 2019 (0800 171 2317; disneycruise.disney.go.com).
Probably the rarest animal sighting is Alaska's grey wolf, but the best bet to see them is near a wolf den and your tour guide will be aware of the location of previous sightings.
You can look out for them while exploring the flora and fauna of the Tongass National Forest, the world's largest temperate rainforest, during a half-day hiking trek offered by Silversea.
Seven-day all-inclusive cruise from Vancouver to Seward aboard Silver Muse departing June 27, 2019, from £3,600pp (0844 251 0837; silversea.com).
Azamara Club Cruises’ Sea Otter and Wildlife Quest excursion guarantees an animal encounter. Travelling aboard an environmentally sensitive water-jet-powered vessel, watch out for playful sea otters as an on-board naturalist provides an insight into their behaviour and their near extinction by Russian fur hunters in the 1800s.
Your captain and crew are so confident you’ll get a close look at wildlife on this trip that, if you don’t spot an otter, whale or bear, you’ll receive a $100 (£75) refund back at the dock (excursion price from £101.47pp).
10-night Alaska Showcase Voyage on Azamara Quest departing Vancouver on July 2, 2019 from £1,879pp (0844 493 4016; azamaraclubcruises.co.uk).