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Appreciating Alaska’s plethora of wildlife

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EARS, MOOSE, AND WOLVES—OH MY! SURE, THESE AND

other charismatic megafauna are fascinating to watch, and a breaching whale is a wonder of nature, but what about all of Alaska’s wildlife you never hear about? For example, did you know that we have (a few) green, leatherback, loggerhead, and Olive Ridley sea turtles? They are rare, but look for them next time you’re cruising the Gulf of Alaska or Southeast. Two frog species grace our lands: the wood frog and the Columbia spotted frog, the male of which prepares a spot for the female to lay her 1,000-plus eggs. It is the only frog species known to be so chivalrous. Among Alaska’s cetaceans, the showy members get all the attention: humpback whales especially, but also orcas and Dall’s porpoise. Let’s give the other whales some love—for there are many: Stejneger’s beaked, gray (bottom feeders who scoop and filter sediment), blue, and minke (the smallest and fastest baleen whales), to name a few. Of the mustelids, wolverines ( fierce and solitary) and sea otters (cute) get all the attention. But mink (who are opportunists and will mate with a variety of partners and eat just about anything they can get their paws on) range throughout most of the state, too, and some albino individuals have even been reported. Then there are the spunky martens; I remember one getting into the pancake batter at my dad’s hunting camp years ago—barged right into the cook tent and brazenly dashed across the plywood countertop to peer into the metal bowl. I find the pinnipeds a little harder to relate to. The caterwauls of the sea lions and the walruses’ awkward lumbering repel me. It’s not their fault, of course. The seals seem a little friendlier

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with those large, glassy eyes and a curious nature. Bats are cool because they eat mosquitoes and other bugs that bug me, but when they swoop past my head at dusk I nevertheless duck. Little brown bats are the most common in Alaska. Tiny rodents like mice, voles, and lemmings freak me out (those beady eyes), and shrews with their pointy little noses— eek! But since they are food for bigger animals, I’ll give them credit. Plus, the scientist in Never Cry Wolf ate mice and survived, so there’s that. I know these critters have value in simply existing, but I can’t quite feel an affinity. Then there are, of course, the fish and birds. Fishing and birding are major draws for both Alaskans and visitors. Although neither activity is a passion for me, I do appreciate their occasional bright colors, and the varied thrush’s low, vibrating trill from the tallest tree makes me happy in a lonely sort of way. Let’s not leave out butterflies, clams, sea urchins, and such, for all of these species make Alaska a unique, lively ecosystem. I try, when watching the big ostentatious beasts strut their stuff, to remember the vital roles the humbler animals play in the complex web of life. And speaking of webs and villages, I’d like to welcome Serine Reeves to our editorial team. She’s Alaska magazine’s photo editor, and we’re excited to see what new imagery she discovers in our effort to share Alaska with you. Susan Sommer, Editor editor@alaskamagazine.com

COURTESY SUSAN SOMMER

It Takes a Village

This dragonfly sat still for several minutes while I snapped its picture. A housefly even landed on its wing and it barely moved, but it did eventually fly away.

A L A S K A M A G A Z I N E . C O M JULY/AUGUST 2019

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5/14/19 6:59 AM

Profile for Cowboy Publishing Group

Alaska Magazine July 2019  

Alaska Magazine July 2019

Alaska Magazine July 2019  

Alaska Magazine July 2019