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Alaskan Wildlife and Culture

Alaska’s sweeping expanse, unique climate and intriguing landscapes harbor abundant and diverse wildlife. A solid concentration of the burly brown bear is found in Alaska (about 98 percent of the U.S. brown bear population) with the majority being of the grizzly variety. The smaller black bears are scattered across the mainland and considered a nuisance for raiding garbage containers and running off with small pets, while polar bear sightings are best along the Arctic coastlines.

Bald eagles are common in the Alaskan sky, as are owls, ospreys, Canadian geese and sandhill cranes. You’re sure to spot caribou, moose, mountain goat and Dall sheep in the mountain regions and grazing along highways. Dall’s porpoises and humpback, orca, beluga and sperm whales inhabit Alaska’s waterways, in addition to leatherback and green sea turtles and a host of fish species including trout, salmon, char, lingcod, pike and whitefish. Every year, droves of salmon swim up streams and rivers to participate in the great spawning migration and frequently are seen jumping out of the water.

Alaska’s best-known culinary asset is fresh seafood. The coastal waters abundantly produce halibut, salmon, crab and shrimp, plus delicacies like abalone, sea urchin, herring roe and sea cucumbers. Feast on hearty sourdough breads, pastries and pancakes that stem from local traditions dating to the gold rush days.

Due to the northern climate and steep terrain, relatively little farming occurs in Alaska. However, in the short summer season crops like potatoes, carrots, lettuce and cabbage can prove productive, while barley and hay are grown in the Delta Junction area. In remote communities, hunting caribou, moose and sheep for sustenance is a common practice. Reindeer once were an important food source, but now the meat is more commercially available as sausage.

Events and Festivals
One of Alaska’s best-known events is the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race, an annual long-distance race in early March that runs from Anchorage to Nome on the Bering Sea coast. The mushers and their teams of sled dogs cover 1,000 miles of rough terrain in below-zero temperatures, and hundreds of volunteers help organize and stage the race.

The two-week Fairbanks Summer Arts Festival in July provides a diverse array of music and dance performances, from Celtic and flamenco to gospel and jazz, while the Blueberry Arts Festival brings a fun and tasty lineup of activities to Ketchikan for a weekend in August. Seward hosts a monthlong halibut tournament in June, and the Sitka Seafood Festival in August pays tribute to that town’s fishing industry and the fruits of the sea.

Celebrations in honor of local fauna include the Alaska Hummingbird Festival in Ketchikan, the Sitka WhaleFest and the Stikine River Birding Festival in Wrangell during springtime.

Alaska’s deep native heritage can be admired in an abundance of handicrafts -- from totem poles to intricate baskets to detailed carved figurines. Craft traditions are passed down among tribes, and each native group is known for particular skills. Specialties from the Inuit tribe include ivory carvings, spirit masks, baleen baskets and jewelry. The Tlingit people create totem poles, as well as baskets and hats woven from spruce root and cedar bark. The Tsimshian also work with spruce root and cedar bark, and the Haida people are renowned basket makers and carvers. Athabascans specialized in birch-bark creations, fur garments and beadwork, while Aleut grass basketry is considered among the best in the world.