GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Researchers at Michigan Technological University were in the right place at the right time this weekend while observing the wolf population on Isle Royale.
Researchers were flying overhead Saturday when they decided to follow a wolf that broke away from the pack. Cameras were clicking as the wolf fell through the ice and subsequently clawed its way out.
The photos show the timeline of the events, including the wolf’s prints in the snow, a hole in the ice and then the wolf scurrying away.
Several commenters on a social media post from the Isle Royale Wolf-Moose Project noted the wolf’s instincts to run after climbing out of the water as a way to raise his body’s internal temperature and ward off the sub-zero temperatures.
Researchers were there as part of the Isle Royale Wolf-Moose Project — the longest continuous study of a predator-prey system in the world.
The observations started in 1958, following the moose and wolf populations as they waxed and waned in mirroring directions. A parvovirus epidemic nearly wiped out the wolves in 1981 and a harsh winter in 1996 crippled the moose population. By the early 2000s, both populations were hurting. The moose were able to bounce back on their own, but the wolves needed some human intervention.
By 2011, researchers counted only 15 wolves on the island, divided into two packs. By 2013, that number had dropped to eight.
Thanks to some help from the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, the wolf population has been able to bounce back on Isle Royale. Researchers now estimate 28 wolves on the island. In turn, the moose population has dropped from approximately 2,000 to approximately 1,300.