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Prince of Wales Island

Photo: Waterfall Resort, Ketchikan, AK

Prince of Wales Island in Alaska is dominated by a cool and moist maritime climate. During the summers, the average temperatures vary from 45 to 75 degrees F. Yearly precipitation averages from 60 to 200 inches, based on the exact locale.

Prince of Wales is part of the Alexander Archipelago in the southernmost portion of the Alaska panhandle and is the third largest island in the United States (Kodiak is the largest island and Hawaii is the second). This island is 135 miles long and 40 miles across. Its 990 miles of coastline has numerous bays, coves, inlets and points. The landscape is characterized by steep, forested mountains and deep U-shaped valleys that were carved out by glacial ice that once covered this area.

Flora: The forests are primarily Western Hemlock and Sitka Spruce, Red Cedar, Alaska Yellow Cedar, Red Alder, and Pacific Silver. The ground cover consists largely of blueberry and huckleberry bushes, young evergreens, moss, ferns, devil's club, and lichens.

Muskeg is a term you are likely to hear in a description of the land. The western climate never allows the vegetation to completely decay, making a network of roots and branches scattered with soil and covered with sphagnum moss. It is very common throughout Alaska and adds a spring to your walk.

Flowering Plants: (The type of flowering plants you will see) are typically Beach Pea, Beach Strawberry, Cow Parsnip, Wild Iris, Yarrow, Red Paintbrush, Seabeach Sandwort, Western Columbine, Goosetongue, Indian Rice, Wild Celery, Beach Asparagus, Ryegrass, and Vetch.

Fauna: The most prevalent mammals in this area are black bears, wolves, Sitka blacktail deer, mink, martens, river otters, sea lions, seals, red squirrels, and beaver. One of the most thrilling birds is the bald eagle. More bald eagles are concentrated in Southeastern Alaska than anywhere else in the world. Ravens and eagles are birds honored by the Native Indians. Much of the art of their culture depicts these two birds from which the various clans derive their family crests. There are more than 200 species of birds indigenous to Alaska. Some of the varieties you may see are loon, heron, kingfisher, tern, swallow, sandpiper, woodpecker, robin, Stellar's jay, thrush, murre, auklet, gull, and many species of ducks. In the latter part of the season, the air resounds with calls from Canadian Geese in flight.

There are many species of whales in surrounding waters. The Gray Whales have a grayish appearance and "knuckles" where a dorsal fin would otherwise be. The world's only remaining population of these whales is located off the coast of western North America, where they make a 13,000-mile round trip from Alaska to Baja California -- the longest migration of any mammal.

The Humpback Whale is easily recognized by its long flippers and lumpy dorsal fin and is considered rare throughout the world. These whales were once numerous but still are slow swimmers, and they were the first species taken whenever whalers moved into a new area. It is estimated that there are no more than 5,000 humpbacks left in the world. This is the "singing whale" whose songs have been the subject of several records.

The Killer Whale or Orca is the most widely distributed of all cetaceans and is found throughout all of the oceans of the world. Males can reach a length of 30 feet, females only 28 feet. They are fast, powerful, and intelligent and are surprisingly docile when in captivity.

Fish: Prince of Wales Island and Waterfall are recognized for the great number and size of trout and salmon found in the surrounding waters. Included are: King or Chinook salmon, Silver or Coho salmon, Red or Sockeye salmon, Dog or Chum salmon, Pink or Humpback salmon, Dolly Varden char, rainbow, steelhead, and cutthroat trout. Depending on the species, good fishing begins in mid-April and extends through September. In the waters surrounding Waterfall Resort, Kings have been caught to 70+ pounds, Silvers 20+ pounds, and Halibut may weight over 300 pounds.

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