Minnesota‘s Department of Natural Resources (DNR) wildlife researchers successfully launched a study of the North Shore’s moose population. Unfortunately, moose in the area have been dying off rapidly and wildlife experts are scratching their heads. It’s been determined that hunting and natural predators can’t account for the population’s rate of decline. They managed to attach 31 moose with GPS tracking collars, but the frigid weather was a significant obstacle. On Monday, January 21st, the ground crew were facing daytime wind chills as cold as 54 below zero. Temperatures didn’t raise above zero until Thursday, Jan. 24th.
“We started the project last week near Grand Marais during a four-day stretch of extreme cold,” Lou Cornicelli said, DNR wildlife research manager. “Flight safety guidelines dictate no work can be performed below 20 degrees below zero. So despite the fact the helicopter was grounded for most of the first three days, we successfully collared and now are tracking nearly a third of the moose we plan to study.”
The study will span multiple years, hoping to track 100 moose total with GPS devices. “When you watch a collared moose disappear back into the brush, you hope data will help unravel the mortality mystery that is puzzling wildlife managers,” said Erika Butler, DNR wildlife veterinarian. . “The technology we helped develop for this project will be of use to other researchers.” The tracking collars are also attached to complex sensors, which can detect weather, heartbeat and much more.
“Signals sent from the 31 moose we have collared as of Monday afternoon are already providing us with their precise location,” Butler explained. “Sensors are recording the air temperature around them and, in some cases, their internal body temperature and whether their heart is beating. If a moose dies, we will receive a text message so that researchers stationed in the field can get there within 24 hours to allow for a necropsy and other tests to better understand the cause of death.”