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Researchers: Two wolves on Isle Royale after all

The last two wolves on Isle Royale, pictured in February 2017. A preliminary report last fall could only confirm one remaining wolf, however, researchers have found evidence that two wolves still exist on the island. (Photo courtesy Michigan Technological University)

In a distinction likely lost on wolves but interesting to Isle Royale fans, researchers say that there are two wolves still living on the Lake Superior island after all.

The Michigan Technological University research crew now conducting the annual winter wolf and moose survey on the island said they had followed tracks from two distinct animals during an aerial survey Saturday.

The news, reported on the group's Facebook page, contradicts their preliminary report from last fall, based on trail cameras, when they could confirm only one wolf remaining on the island.

The difference between one or two has no impact on the future of wolves on the island however because the remaining two wolves are not able to reproduce any viable pups, likely because they are inbred and directly related.

Because of that the National Park Service is within weeks of releasing a detailed plan on how and when it will move forward with an effort to introduce new wolves to the island to bolster genetics and revitalize the doomed predator population. Wolves are the only predator on the island and moose are in danger of becoming overpopulated.

The 45-mile-long, 143,000-acre island is located about 15 miles off Minnesota's North Shore. Moose came to the island around 1900, peaking at 2,445 in 1995 and hitting bottom at just 385 in 2007. Moose were back up to 1,600 last year and could exceed 2,000 when the current survey is finished next month. Wolves crossed the ice to the island in 1949. Their numbers reached a high of 50 in 1980, and 24 wolves roamed the island as recently as 2009. But wolf numbers have crashed in recent years with no new wolves coming to the island over ice, leading to severe inbreeding issues and no new pups.