Glacier Bay National Park

Fauna & Flora of Glacier Bay National Park

Animal Repopulation

Brown BearsThe patterns by which animals re-inhabit the land after glaciers retreat are not as neat as with plant succession. (see details below). There are no true pioneer species paving the way for succeeding species.

Land mammals must either walk or swim. They cannot, as plant seeds and spores do, hitch rides on wind and waves or with birds. Extensive water, ice, or mountains loom as impassable barriers. Low mountain passes are often the conduits through which land mammals begin to repopulate the park. Usually they will live off this young terrain only part of the year at first. Then resident populations may gradually build.

The problem at Glacier Bay and throughout Southeast Alaska is compounded by the fact that mammals in general have not had enough time since the Wisconsinan Ice Age wound down to recolonize the land.

Fauna (animals)Breaching Whale in Glacier Bay

Glacier Bay National Park and its surrounding wilderness support healthy populations of Alaskan wildlife. The park is connected with 2 other huge National Parks- Kluane in British Columbia and Wrangell/ St. Alias in Alaska, making it the largest contiguous roadless area left on earth. That staggering fact bears well for the future populations of the species living here.

Indeed, this wilderness area is probably the most untapped and completely wild areas left on the planet, and will remain so for a long time...

Sea Otter- Photo by Melinda WebsterJust about all visitors to the park exhibiting proper respect for wildlife and heeding basic rules of wildlife viewing, will be able to experience many different species of amazing animals. has acquired permission to link directly with Alaska's Fish and Game Wildlife Notebook Series, allowing us to share the details and accurate information of Glacier Bay Wildlife with you. Simply click on a hyperlink of the Animal that you want to learn more about and go to that comprehensive page.

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Note: Each link opens a new browser window in Akf&G's website.

the elusive wolfLarge land mammals include: Brown bear, Black bear, Blue bears (glacier), Moose, Sitka Black Tailed Deer, Mountain goat, Wolf, Coyote, Lynx and Wolverine.

Smaller furbearers include Marmots, Land and River Otters,Weasels, Ermine, Martin, Mink, Squirrels, Beaver and Red Fox. There are also Porcupines, Voles, Shrews, Hares, and Bats in the area.
Plentiful populations of Marine life also abound in Glacier Bay- both Mammalian and several kinds of fish species.

Little seal on rockThe largest Marine mammals
are of course the whales. Species seen in Glacier Bay include: Humpback, Grey, Minke, Fin, and Killer Whales (Orcas).

Piniped species and other mammals include: Harbor Seal, Northern Fur Seal, Ringed Seal, Sea Otters, Harbor Porpoise, Dall Porpoise and the Steller's Sea Lion.

Bird and Hawks species are also plentiful in Glacier Bay. Among the more than 200 species found in the park include: Bald Eagle, Golden Eagle, Raven, Northern PuffinsHawk Owl, Sandhill Crane, Loon, Stellar Jay, Murre, Cormorant, Puffin, Murrelet, Oyster catchers, Herons, Geese, Ducks, Ptarmigan, Crow, Osprey, Blue Grouse, Woodpecker, Pidgeon Guillemot, Sparrow, Sandpiper, Plover, Arctic Tern, Kittiwake, and Gulls galore, among others.

Shellfish and prevalent fish species include: Chinook, Chum, Sockeye, Pink and Coho Salmon, Halibut, Trout, Steelhead, Dolly Varden, Lingcod, Whitefish, Blackfish, Char and Herring. As for shellfish, there are Dungeness Crabs, Scallops, Shrimp, and Clams, among many others, in the surrounding waters as well.

Alas, Glacier Bay is lacking in the Amphibian department, due to the climate no doubt, with but a handful of frogs and toads.

Some animals are more commonly seen than others due to their elusive natures or preference for the backcountry or areas where the average traveler may not go. Wolverines, wolf, and Lynx, for example, are seldom seen by the casual day visitor, but tracks will be commonly seen. Black Bears, Eagles, Whales, Seals, and Moose are some of the more commonly seen animals.

We would suggest that no matter what kinds of animals you see on your stay in Glacier Bay National Park, know that it is their land you are trodding upon and be humbled by your humanness.

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Flora (plants) thimbleberry bloom

Glacier Bay is blanketed by a mosaic of plant life, from a few pioneer species in recently exposed areas to intricately balanced climax communities in coastal and alpine regions. Since virtually all the vegetation in the bay has returned to the land in the past 300 years following the retreat of the glaciers, this area is one of the premier sites on the planet to study plant recolonization.

New Wilderness

Beachflowers- Courtesy of Bill and Marge and the Good River Bed and BreakfastThe world of science came to Glacier Bay to observe the great glaciers and found here the ideal natural laboratory for the study of the infant theory of plant succession.

How do plants recover a raw landscape?

What happens where nature wipes the slate clean and starts over from scratch? The glacier and plant studies go hand in hand. The rapid vegetation change following the glaciers' speedy retreat has enabled us to map and photograph the course of plant succession.
When naturalist John Muir came to Glacier Bay in 1879 he was seeking corroboration of the continental glaciation theories of Louis Agassiz, whose controversial Etudes sur les Glaciers was published in 1840.

Here, in the aftermath of retreating glaciers, Muir found original nature, a landscape like a thought not yet formed. It was like seeing an owl with no feathers. IN GLACIER BAY NATIONAL PARK YOU CAN WATCH A VEGETATIVE WILDERNESS BEING CREATED- and also see its culmination in coastal forest.

 Plant Succession

A trip into Glacier Bay mimics glacial retreat and rolls back plant succession, from the mature forest at Bartlett Cove to the naked earth structure at the fjords' farthest reaches. Biological succession produces profound change here in a mere decade. Earnest, long-range studies of plant succession began in Glacier Bay in 1916, with the work of Professor William S. Cooper. His plant studies were continued in 1941 by Professor Donald Lawrence and others.      

Plant recovery may begin here with no more than "black crust", a mostly algal, feltlike nap that stabilizes the silt and retains water. Moss will begin to add more conspicuous tufts. Next come scouring rush and fireweed, dryas, alder, willows, then spruce, and finally hemlock forest. (on the park's outer coast the final or climax stage of plant succession may be muskeg, because soil packing causes poor drainage.)

Where plants' seeds happen to land, of course, can be critical. The chaotic rock-and-rubble aftermath of a glacial romp is deficient in nitrogen. Alder and dryas are important pioneers because they improve the soil by adding to it nitrogen from the air. Much of northern Europe and America were pioneered by dryas when the last Ice Age ended. Sitka alder eventually forms dense entanglements that are the bane of hikers. But these alders also fix nitrogen in their root nodules, and drop leaves that add valuable nitrogen to the soil. This enables spruce to take hold and eventually shade out the alder. A forest community is begun.

Each successive plant community leading up to the climax community creates new conditions that lead to its replacement by plants more competitive under those new conditions. The theory holds that plant competition modifies the environment- light and moisture availability, and soil nutrients- so that plant populations also change. Over time, successive plant communities will occupy the environment, hence plant succession. The time from naked rock to revegetation is not necessarily long. A naturalist doing field studies here about 1920 collected bird specimens of willow ptarmigan so gorged on plump ripe strawberries that juice ran out of their mouths when they were held up by their legs.

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Glacier Bay Park

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