We're excited about ten million things about living in Alaska, and that's probably not even really that much of an exaggeration.
Mountains. Snow. 22-hours-per-day sun. Hiking. Camping. Giant bugs (ok not that one). Bucket list adventures every weekend. But one of the things that tops the list . . . is the wildlife.
Alaska is home to some animals that I thought I'd only ever see in a) zoos b) aquariums c) weird dreams.
Seeing an animal in a zoo or aquarium is fine. But . . . let's be real. It's also super sad. Zoos serve as a crucial opportunity for education and building public affinity and sympathy for many species, but damn . . . if you don't feel a twang of sickness in your stomach when you watch a Whale Shark make a short turn in a tank (shout out to the Atlanta aquarium) or see a lion pacing against the wall of an enclosure, then . . . dunno. Maybe you're a little dead inside. Not really. But I mean maybe. I'll go burn my soap box now.
You know where you can see animals and not feel sad about it? THE WILDERNESS. You might also get eaten, but hey -- nature is metal. Here are the Alaska animals we're most looking forward to spotting in their au naturale environment in all of their majestic-as-fuck glory:
[Image Credit Ken Conger]
DID YOU FUCKING KNOW THAT MUSK OX LIVE IN ALASKA, BECAUSE I WAS YESTERDAY YEARS OLD WHEN I FOUND OUT. Mind is so blown. I feel like this is a happy, hair, smelly little living slice of the ice age and guess what. We get to drive to see them. Like some people drive to Disney Land or Hershey Park. We get to drive to see Musk Ox. And I'd take that trade any day.
[Image Credit SMITH COLLECTION/GADO/GETTY IMAGES]
Sea lions and otters and seals and whatever are cute. But come on. Look at this battle-worn blub tank. Those tusks. That mustache. The wrinkles. It's like a sea-borne version of my little Zulu, but with face weapons. These guys are so badass, they vacation back and forth between Alaska and Russia without being worried about Putin OR Palin. Talk about being a straight G. But really, who's gonna fuck with this dude?
[Image Credit: REUTERS]
Also high on the blub list: Beluga Whales. Sadly, these guys are also on another list: the Endangered Species List. It's specifically the Cook Inlet belugas that are endangered -- only about 340 or so are left in the wild. I remember having a stuffed beluga whale plush toy as a kiddo and seeing them at numerous aquariums (cue the sad feeling again). These guys are so big and awkward looking, but seeing them glide through the water like a ghostly spectre is beautiful and eerie at the same time. They really don't seem like a thing that would exist outside of an M. Night Shyamalan movie, but we are graced with their presence and I can't wait to see them in the pale flesh.
[Image Credit: Doug Lindstrand/Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center]
"Oh, we drove through Yellowstone National Park and saw the bison and it was so magical!" That's a cute story, Sharon. Sit down and shut up, because Wood Bison will eff up those Plains Bison that you find in the Lower 48. These dudes are the largest land mammal in North America and are only found in Canada and Alaska. Males are 6' tall at their shoulder and in general weigh 15% more than those puny little Plains Bison. How'd you like to see one of these guys come lumbering out of the forest toward your campsite?
Yes, yes. I left out some of the quintessential Alaska must-see animals. Well, don't fret, because here they are. This isn't to say we're not also stoked to see these guys, but come on . . . MUSK OX.
Do we need to say anything else? They're wolves. They're badass. And they scare the crap out of me when they howl. I'm really not sure how they are distantly related to either of our wussy dogs, but science says they are, so . . . sure.
These things, kind of like narwhals, don't really seem to me like they should exist in real life, but hey -- they do. White bears that live on ice and swim like Michael Phelps and live off of seals and stuff. Nature, you freaky.
Take your pick. Blue Whale. Bowhead Whale. Gray Whale. Humpback Whales. Orcas. Mike Whale. Sperm Whale. I'm sounding like Benjamin Buford Blue in Forest Gump listing the ways to eat shrimp. I'm sure Free Willy isn't nearly as chill or into Michael Jackson music when you're up close and personal.
And, aside from the ones that are found in the water, all of these lovely creatures are one of the reasons I'm pretty hardcore about getting a roof top tent for Yomper. Yes, I'm fully aware that a tent on a vehicle vs. the ground will do little to no good against a hungry or curious intruder, but let me live in my delusion.