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Can You See Polar Bears in Alaska?

Can You See Polar Bears in Alaska?

Alaska is often on Americans’ bucket list of places to visit. From the majesty of Denali National Park and the Northern Lights to the adventure of dog sledding competitions, Alaska welcomes millions of tourists yearly. Although the grandeur of the mountains and glaciers lure many visitors, the abundant wildlife also captures their attention. With giant Grizzly bears, migrating caribou, and humpback whales, the opportunities to see animals in their natural habitats are endless. But what about polar bears? Are there polar bears in Alaska?

Let’s dive in to find out!

What Are Polar Bears?

Polar bears are carnivorous mammals that roam the Arctic. Their thick coat of insulated fur protects them in this frigid environment. These strong swimmers have slightly webbed front paws to help them paddle through the water.

Polar bears can grow to seven to eight feet tall and weigh 900-1,600 pounds. National Geographic categorizes polar bears as “vulnerable,” meaning there’s a high risk of extinction in the wild. Habitat loss and climate change are contributing to their decline.

Alaska Polar Bear Viewing and Photo Tours with Wild Alaska Travel

Are There Polar Bears in Alaska?

Because polar bears live in the Arctic, you can indeed find them in Alaska. The polar bear population in Alaska is around 4,700.

Alaska is also home to black and brown bears. You would see these species more frequently on tours and in more populated areas of Alaska. However, you’re unlikely to see a polar bear unless you travel far north to the state’s very remote areas.

Where Do Polar Bears Live?

Polar bears have adapted to life around the Arctic Circle. They prey on seals and eat whale carcasses.

Generally, people find polar bears only in Greenland, Norway, Russia, Canada, and Alaska because they rely on sea ice to catch seals. Experts classify polar bears as marine mammals because they spend so much time at sea.

Pro Tip: Want to RV around Alaska to see as much wildlife as possible? Check out our Complete Guide to Alaska RV Rentals.

Polar bear eating fish along the coast of Alaska.
Polar bears, grizzly bears, brown bears, oh my! Alaska has a lot of special wildlife you cannot find elsewhere in the world.

Where Can I See Polar Bears?

If you’re looking for polar bears in Alaska, you’ll have to journey far north. Kaktovik is a small village in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge where you are likely to see these white bears. This is because the residents there can hunt whales, so the polar bears come to feed on the whale carcasses.

Between August and October, polar bears tend to congregate along the coast near Barter Island, where Kaktovik is, because there is less ice during these months. The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge asks visitors to book tours with an experienced guide who will meet the requirements of the Marine Mammal Protection Act and the Endangered Species Act.

You can also try to see polar bears in Utqiagvik, formerly known as Barrow. There are 4x4 tours you can book, and locals will take you to view these massive mammals. If you venture out of the city, you’ll need a land use permit because the local Alaska Native Corporation owns the surrounding land.

Tom and Cait from Mortons on the Move posing in front of the Arctic Circle entry way sign.
Due to its positioning in the Arctic Circle, parts of Alaska make for a great home to polar bears.

When Is the Best Time to See a Polar Bear?

The ice-free period of August-October is the best time to catch a polar bear sighting in Alaska because they’ll be along the coastline. Once the ice sets in, polar bears will venture off and spend much of their time at sea on the ice.

Kaktovik and Utqiagvik are rural Inupiat villages with little amenities. Since you can only access these areas by small commercial or chartered aircraft, it’s crucial to plan and make reservations early. However, weather delays are common in these regions.

Do People Eat Polar Bears?

The native people can hunt polar bears. Some laws and regulations provide restrictions and quotas, however.

The Inuit people and other natives have lived off polar bear meat for thousands of years. However, they also use every part of the bear possible. They use the fur to make clothing, the fat as fuel for lighting homes, and other parts of the bear for medicinal purposes. They only discard the poisonous liver.

Boat of people in Alaska driving by coastline where mom and baby polar bear are.
Book a tour with an experienced guide if you wish to view polar bears in Alaska.

Are Polar Bears Dangerous?

Because polar bears in Alaska aren’t as acclimated to human activity as other bear species, they can be very dangerous. However, attacks are rare because polar bears live far away from most human contact.

The native peoples understand how aggressive polar bears can be and don’t seek them out. They are a top predator and aren’t afraid of humans like other bear species. 

In the future, if the Arctic ice continues to melt, polar bear populations are anticipated to venture farther south, which will lead them into more contact with humans. This could be dangerous to marine mammals and people.

First, polar bears are much larger than humans. Second, their bite is deadly, the strongest of all bear species. Finally, polar bears are fast. Even though they can weigh over 1,000 pounds, polar bears can reach speeds up to 25 mph. These giants are agile on land and in the water.

Ice along the Alaskan coastline.
During the months of August through October, the Alaskan coastline will have less ice, which will increase your chances of seeing a polar bear.

How Many Types of Bears Live in Alaska?

There are three types of bears that live in Alaska: the brown bear, the black bear, and the polar bear. Although it is possible to see a Grizzly bear in the lower 48 states, you’re much more likely to see them in Alaska. About 40,000 roam the state. Predictable seasonal feeding patterns make viewing them more manageable than other bears.

Black bears inhabit most of the forests of Alaska and are the smallest of the three bear species. Sometimes color distinguishes black bears from brown bears, but there are other noticeable differences. Black bears have no shoulder hump, and their claws are smaller and darker. They have more prominent ears and a flatter sloping brow line than their Grizzly bear counterparts.

Pro Tip: If you want to see brown bears while in Alaska, check out our experience Katmai National Park.

The Call of the North: Journey to the Arctic Ocean | Go North Ep 1

Although Rare, a Polar Bear Sighting Is Possible

If you’re looking for a bear sighting, Alaska is the state to visit. Although there’s no way to know the actual numbers, estimates are that about 140,000 total black bears and brown bears inhabit the state. Even though it’s not a guarantee, the likelihood that you’ll see one of these bears in the wild is high.

On the other hand, it’s much rarer to spot a polar bear. Still, it’s not impossible. If you want to see these massive creatures in Alaska, plan a visit to their remote northern territory during the ice-free months and book a tour with a local guide.

If you catch a sighting, realize how rare it is and soak it in. Not many people have seen a polar bear in the wild.

Will you visit Alaska to view the polar bears? Tell us in the comments!

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