ISLE ROYALE, MI – The annual report on Michigan’s Isle Royale wolf and moose populations has been released. And unlike recent years where island-watchers were just waiting to see if the remote island’s last two wolves had survived another year while the number of moose steadily ticked upward, this year’s report has a little drama tucked inside its pages.
There are new wolves to track, intense territorial patrolling by the two old island-born wolves, some bared-teeth rebuffing of incestuous courtship, and even some “unknown” wolf tracks that likely show a group of mainland wolves visited the island for a few days this winter and sampled some moose kill leftovers.
So grab your popcorn and we’ll take you through some of the report’s best highlights.
It’s compiled each year by researchers at Michigan Technological University. This winter, they spent four weeks tracking moose and wolves using planes and skis. Now in its 61st year, it is the world’s longest-running study of a predator-prey relationship.
Yes, there’s the expected rise in moose, this year topping 2,000. Their numbers have been allowed to grow nearly predator-free for years in the face of the island’s dwindling wolf pack. Their population is at near record-high levels, and their browsing diet is putting a big dent in the wilderness island’s vegetation, researchers found.
But the report also highlights some big moments among the wildlife on this Michigan island archipelago, which sits in Lake Superior about 15 miles from the Canadian mainland, and 60 miles from Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.
The National Park Service kicked off a multi-year wolf relocation project last fall in hopes more predators would keep the booming moose numbers in check. The two island-born wolves – an older, related pair that can’t have viable offspring – have been joined so far by 13 new wolves from Minnesota and Canada.
The Michigan Tech team was on the island during a window this winter when the island-born wolves and two new female wolves from Minnesota were there. The new wolves from Canada had not yet arrived, though recent GPS data from their tracking collarsshows how they are all fitting in.
Here are the highlights, new photos, and tracking maps, courtesy of the MTU study: