Ketchikan Whale Watching, Wildlife Tours and Excursions

Tongass National Forest, Whales, Stellar Sea lions and Seals

Ketchikan, Alaska, a true gem among places to visit throughout the world! The awe-inspiring beauty that surrounds Ketchikan can’t be explained in words without setting eyes on this majestic environment. From the rugged terrain that encompasses the old growth forest of the Tongass National Forest down to the vibrantly rich waters meeting the land. Each day surprises visitors with landscapes and wildlife that make Ketchikan, Alaska a bucket list destination.

What’s special about Tongass National Forest

To understand a place, we first must look at what makes Ketchikan so special. First and foremost, Ketchikan is located in the heart of the Tongass National Forest, which is our nation’s largest national forest, making up over 16.7 illion acres. This region in combination with British Columbia’s Great Bear Rainforest encompasses the largest temperate rainforest on earth! The Tongass contains a series of islands making up an unparalleled archipelago referred to as the Alexander Archipelago, with glacial fjords such as the national monument Misty Fjords, countless streams and old growth forests filled with cedar, spruce and hemlock trees. The abundant wildlife that calls this space home include bears, wolves, black-tailed deer, bald eagles and mountain goats.

Wildlife Gulf of Alaska and Pacific Ocean

What wildlife can we see on our Ketchikan whale watching and wildlife tour?
Where the Tongass meets the mighty Pacific Ocean and the Gulf of Alaska is where our gaze looks to the inhabitants of the water world that surrounds the forest. Above sea level you can expect to see orcas, humpback whales, sea lions, seals, otters and porpoises. The vastness of the ocean and the nutrient rich waters bring the wildlife into a higher concentration during summer months. Bald Eagles, Marbled Murrelets, Herring Gulls and Murres work cohesively with the marine mammals to target the rich feeding grounds from above and below the waterline. It’s a genuine spectacle to watch a group of humpback whales bubble feeding on the surface with hundreds of herring gulls and Murres working the bait from above and below.

Ketchikan, Alaska: Marine Wildlife Alaska Whale Watching Excursions

Humpback Whales
One of the largest draws for visitors in Alaska each summer is the enormous numbers of humpback whales. Wildlife tours and whale watching boats take thousands of travelers to see this unique spectacle. Humpback whales measuring 50 feet in length and weighing upwards of 35 tons travel north to Alaska waters annually to take advantage of the abundant and concentrated food sources. While mating and calving in tropical waters such as Hawaii and Mexico, summertime marks a season for traveling north to feed. Don’t miss out on the opportunity to see humpback whales bubble net feeding while eating krill and other small fishes that amount to 1.5 tons daily. Ketchikan in particular and Southeast Alaska holds one of the highest concentrations of humpbacks in the world! Book your wildlife tour to see this happening live.

Ketchikan, Alaska: Marine Wildlife Alaska Whale Watching Excursions

When we begin to think of traditional Alaska waters and the most Apex predator in all the planet’s oceans, we must recognize and attribute this title to the Orca or Killer Whale. A mature killer whale is anywhere between 25-30 feet in length and is identified by their characteristic black and white patterns. The killer whale is the largest member of the dolphin family and lives in groups called pods. They attained their name because they were observed killing and eating whales. They hunt both fish and marine mammals in complete darkness by using echolocation through a series of clicks similar to sonar. Alaska orcas and killer whales are either resident orcas or transient killer whales. While resident orcas eating primarily salmon represent larger pods and more social behaviors, this is contrary to transient orcas who feed on marine mammals and hunt in smaller pods. Southeast Alaska including Ketchikan lies in the heart of the epicenter to see orcas and killer whales in the wild. Regardless of which pod you may see, if you get the opportunity to view these majestic specimens in their natural habitat you’re in for a real treat!

Ketchikan Alaska Wildlife: Steller Sea Lions

Personally one of my favorite marine wildlife mammals has to be the Steller sea lion, which is the largest of the family. The Steller sea lions inhabiting the surrounding waters off Ketchikan can weigh up to 1,200 pounds and measure in at over 10 feet. These incredibly adapted marine predators hunt numerous fishes including salmon, herring and cod, while also taking advantage of squid feed as well. The best opportunity to see Steller sea lions lie in the open ocean waters where they concentrate around rock pinnacles and buoys as they rest in between foraging on these haul-out locations. Our Ketchikan wildlife and ecotours make it a point to venture to the most vibrant waters where your chance to see the Steller sea lion in action reaches its highest potential.

Ketchikan Alaska Wildlife: Harbor Seals

Harbor Seals don’t have quite the stature of the Steller sea lion, but boy are they cute. They can be seen at many local Ketchikan attractions including the historic Creek Street bridge, where they are seen blitzing around the creek eating salmon running upstream as well as in nearshore coastal waters around kelp beds, reefs, gravel beaches and rock outcroppings. Harbor seals look like little marine puppies in the water peeping their heads just above the surface to monitor the surrounding area. Mature harbor seals grow to 5-6 feet and weigh in around 200 pounds. Harbor seals eat mainly fish and invertebrates and their primary predators are the killer whale, sharks and bald eagles.

Be sure to check out our articles on Alaska bird species, salmon and jellyfish that can be seen on our Ketchikan whale watching and wildlife shore excursion. Following that, don’t miss the Intertidal Zone article that discusses kelp forests, starfish, sea cucumbers, urchins, sea otters and minks.

Ketchikan Wildlife Tour Fun Facts: Tongass National Forests, Humpbnack Whales, Killer Whales, Steller Sea Lions, and Harbor Seals

1. Ketchikan lies in the heart of the Tongass National Forest, which is our nation’s largest national forest with over 16.7 million acres.
2. This region in combination with British Columbia’s Great Bear Rainforest encompasses the largest temperate rainforest on earth!
3. Wildlife tours in Ketchikan have the opportunity to see humpback whales, orcas, Steller sea lions, bald eagles and harbor seals.
4. Humpback whales spend their summer months in the rich feeding grounds of Alaska, bubble net feeding on small bait fish and krill. They can eat up to 1.5 tons a day!
5. Killer whales and Orcas are the largest species of the dolphin family and the apex predator of all the world’s oceans. While killer whales eat marine mammals, resident orcas eat primarily salmon.
6. Steller sea lions can weigh up to 1,200 pounds and measure in at over 10 feet.
7. Harbor seals can weigh around 200 pounds and measure in at 5-6 feet and feed on many fishes including salmon