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Monday, March 10, 2008

Alaska offers great views of whales, eagles, bears,but plan ahead, as wildlife viewing is not guaranteed.

Did you know that Denali National Park has over 9,500 square miles, but a population of just 350 brown bears.

Most people viist Alaska with high expectations of seeing an abundance of wildlife. Some even think they might see bears just minutes after landing on the pier, or pods of whales swimming beside their cruise ship, whereever it goes

If you go, you should be prepared for the possibility that you might not.How can you improve your chances of viewing wildlife? Just be in the right place at the right time.

First, call your cruise line and ask to talk to the shore excursion desk about your expectations. They know what to to do and when.

Let's take a look at some possibilities....

Sea Otters

Want to see Otters? Try the Sea Otter Quest from the town of Sitka. You will cruise through one of the world's most beautiful coastal environments.

You'll have the opportunity to observe sea otters, whales, sea lions, porpoise, harbor seals, brown bears, blacktail deer, bald eagles and a variety of marine birds. An onboard naturalist explains the workings of this remarkable ecosystem. Learn about the sea otter's recovery following their near extinction at the hands of Russian fur hunters in the early 1800s.The waterjet-driven boat, offers wildlife viewing at close range. Go topside and use the observation deck for photo ops and to fully enjoy a 360 degree viewing experience.

You are guaranteed to see an otter, a whale or a bear. If not, the tour operator offers a $100 cash refund ($50 refund per child) as you disembark the vessel. Complimentary admission to St. Michael's Russian Orthodox Cathedral is also included.

Whales

Summer is a great time to see whales. Summer is the time when humpbacks and orcas are feeding, so there’s a good chance you’ll see them.

Consider the Whale Watching & Wildlife Quest out of Juneau. Whales are so plentiful that this tour comes with a limited money-back guarantee.

You will be taken to Auke Bay, board a waterjet-powered catamaran specially designed for wildlife viewing. Along the way, take in the majestic backdrop of snow-capped peaks and glaciers as you cruise through the island-studded waters of Stephens Passage. An onboard naturalist explains the habits and habitat of the wildlife you may encounter, which may include humpback and killer whales, Steller sea lions, harbor seals, porpoises, and on the shore: bald eagles, Sitka blacktail deer and, occasionally, bears.Or try a whale-watch tour out of Juneau, where you can see so many humpbacks you may lost count. These humpbacks spout, surface and dive all around your boat. Watching their huge tails fan out as they go down is exciting.

Bears

Take the Bear Search tour out of Icy Strait Point. Remember, all wildlife tour descriptions clearly state that wildlife viewing cannot be guaranteed.

You will come to Spasski River. This area offers prime bear viewing opportunities when the salmon are running and the meadows are alive with plump, juicy berries and new-growth plants. Look for Sitka blacktail deer, land otters, salmon, bald eagles, and brown bears. The river valley offers prime bear viewing opportunities.

The standard tour costs about $100 per person. If you want spend more, you can take a fly-in tour to remote areas like Pack Creek on Admiralty Island or the McNeil River State Game Sanctuary. Bears do gather in these places. Visit Brooks Falls in Katmai National Park, to view the bears feeding as the salmon run upstream in the summer.

Consider this: From Ketchikan, take a floatplane to Neets Bay in Tongass National Forest. Begin a quarter-mile walk to Neets Creek, the site of a world-class salmon hatchery whose annual release of fish is a huge draw for the region's most plentiful concentration of black bears. Watch bears fishing for and feeding on salmon and view the abundant bald eagles.

6 Steps to improve you chances of viewing wildlife...

1. Early morning ( 6-7AM ) and dusk are the best times for viewing. The bears are catching salmon for breakfast, and you don’t want to miss it.

2. Know when to go. Bears can be seen in Denali from May to September, but July through late August is the best time to see them at the Wildlife Observatory in the Tongass National Forest.

3. Experience Alaska's wild and majestic bald eagles in their natural habitat while rafting gently through the world famous Chilkat Bald Eagle Preserve at Haines..

Your adventure begins with professional guides aboard the Yukon Queen for a narrated marine wildlife-spotting cruise en route to picturesque Haines. On arrival, you will be driven along the coastline into the heart of the "Valley of the Eagles." Take in the towering mountains, hanging glaciers and lush forests from the comfort of an 18-foot raft. Naturalist guides share their extensive knowledge of the area's plants, wildlife and rich Native history. This float trip has no whitewater and the mild nature of the glacial river provides amazing opportunities to photograph eagles in the wild. The preserve is also home to moose, bears, wolves and a host of other animals. Watch for wildlife and take lots of pictures while your guide rows the raft downriver.

Want to see the thousands of eagles? Visit in October.

4. You might see wildlife just by driving or walking around. People have seen moose and bear in towns, wolves and eagles hanging out by the rivers to catch salmon.

5. Increase your odds. Choose longer tours. When you plan your Alaskan vacation, don't miss Denali National Park. Its a place so expansive that it shelters more than six hundred-fifty species of flowering plants and thirty-seven mammal species. The park includes a dizzying six million acres filled with large caribou, moose, and grizzly bears, and offset with startlingly small flowers, miniaturized to suit Alaska's short growth season. You should make Denali National Park, the focal point of your Alaska Cruisetour. You will go deeper into Denali National Park on the six-to-eight hour Tundra Wilderness Tour than on the three-to-four hour Natural History Tour. Some Tundra tour buses also come equipped with high-powered video cameras hooked up to screens throughout the bus so you can get close-up images of animals that are far away. You can even purchase a DVD afterwards with footage from your trip. On the bus tour, you might see moose, caribou and Dall sheep in addition to a bear.

6. Bring binoculars, be quiet on trails, be patient and don't set the expectation bar too high. That way, you won't be disappointed if you don't see everything on your first visit to Alaska.

It take a lot of planning and a small amount of luck, to increase your chances of viewing the beautiful animals and breathtaking scenery that is Alaska. Take the time to do it right

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