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With enough square miles to cover Texas twice over, Alaska is host to a number of eclectic animal species. However, not all of these unique and beautiful creatures are thriving as a species. Whether it be climate change, habitat loss, or other contributing factors, there are many fascinating yet endangered animals in Alaska.
In this article, we’ll use the IUCN Red List to identify a number of endangered animals that call Alaska home. We’ll discuss what makes them so interesting and special, as well as potentially why they are endangered. Whether it be climate change, habitat loss, or species complications, these Alaska-dwelling animals deserve some attention. Let’s get started and talk all about endangered animals in Alaska now!
1. Pinto Abalone
While Alaska banned the commercial harvest of pinto abalone as far back as 1996, this beautiful gastropod has been endangered since 2006. There are a number of reasons why the pinto abalone (classified as Haliotis kamtschatkana) is on the IUCN Red List, including climate change. These mollusks are also extremely popular in the diet of sea otters, and harvest is still allowed on an individual level.
Reaching a shell size of no more than 6 inches, the pinto abalone can be found up and down the Pacific coastline. It lives amongst rocky regions as far north as Alaska and as far south as Baja, Mexico. Some specimens can even be found in Korea, preferring kelpy environments. They live no more than 15 years, though disease and shell developmental issues plague this gorgeous gastropod.
2. North Pacific Right Whale
Classified as Eubalaena japonica, the North Pacific right whale is extremely rare and therefore not often seen. Because of this, its population is difficult to determine. However, due to climate change, pollution, and simply a small population to begin with, the North Pacific right whale is endangered. Interestingly, some hybrid whales have been discovered in our seas that seem to be North Pacific right whales breeding with the far more common bowhead whale.
3. Western Bumblebee
While it’s no secret at this point, the western bumblebee (along with many other bee species) is indeed considered endangered. While this little guy once had a huge habitat range, Bombus occidentalis has declined in numbers, by as much as 40% in the last decade. Through climate change and a parasite known as Nosema, the bumblebee population has dwindled, especially in Alaska. However, there are many conservation efforts happening to restore our bee populations!
4. Ocean Sunfish
There’s no denying just how fascinating ocean sunfish are. Also known as a common mola and classified as Mola mola, ocean sunfish are unfortunately a vulnerable species in Alaska. This is largely due to the fact that sunfish end up captured during the commercial fishing of swordfish and drift-style fishing methods. Sunfish hunt at deep ocean depths but spend ample time floating on the surface of the sea, likely warming their bodies and basking in the sun!
5. Sunflower Sea Star
Classified as Pycnopodia helianthoides, the sunflower sea star is critically endangered and declared so as recently as 2021. While the population off the coastline of Alaska is slowly declining, more than 90% of sea stars off the coast of Oregon and California have disappeared. This can largely be blamed on a specific sea star wasting disease, but rising ocean temperatures are also to blame.
Sunflower sea stars are unique and agile hunters, despite their large size. They primarily consume sea urchins and are one of the few animals to consistently eat them. However, due to their overall population decline, the sea urchin population has increased exponentially!
6. Polar Bear
Labeled as ‘Vulnerable’ according to the IUCN Red List, polar bears are proving difficult in Alaska. With rising sea levels and melting sea ice combined, polar bears around the world are being forced further inland. This is especially true in Alaska- the local polar bear population continues to invade human-populated areas in order to den and feed. This leads to more harmful interactions and desperate bear behaviors, all of which are typically avoided if the seal population accommodates their large appetites.
No matter where you are in the world, there are endangered animal species. Alaska boasts some of the most unique and rare animals in the United States, some of which desperately need our protection. By remaining informed and doing our part to protect these endangered animals, we can ensure a more stable population and a more diverse Alaskan ecosystem!
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