Woodland Caribou of the Slate Islands


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Last Monday we arrived in the town of Terrace Bay, Ontario to buy groceries and pick up a package at the post office. However we found out that it was Canada’s Victoria Day holiday so everything was closed until the next day. Eleanor Dennis soon found us wandering around and explained that we wouldn’t be able to do any of our errands until Tuesday. She invited us to come charge our computers and to take showers. After getting groceries on Tuesday our plan was to paddle out to the Slate Islands. Her husband Paul was very familiar with the area and showed us on the map the best places to camp, where to see caribou, and the location of shatter cone created by a meteorite. A great deal of thanks is due to both Paul and Eleanor for helping us out so much.

Photo by John Amren

On Tuesday, after getting all of our errands done, we paddled eight miles across to the Slate Islands for a few days of rest and exploring. Almost as soon as we paddled into the harbor in the middle of the islands, a caribou poked its head out of the woods. As we watched he walked out of the woods down to the shore. Then we saw another one foraging in the woods just behind it. For a few minutes they walked around just behind a few trees before trotting off. 5_28_12caribou

Woodland caribou are medium-sized members of the deer family. They are larger and darker than barren ground caribou. On average, a woodland caribou weighs between 200 and 400 pounds and is three and a half feet to four feet tall. They have been known to live as long as 15 years. Their main food sources are lichens (such as Old Man’s Beard) and other things such as grass and moss. Interestingly, both males and females have antlers.caribou, rangifer caribou, by Erwin & Peggy Bauer, 7/93. 11444, 102.3.16

The Slate Islands are famous for their woodland caribou population. At its peak, the herd has had as many as 650 caribou. The population crashed due to a shortage of food soon after this, dropping to 100 caribou. Now there are about 200 caribou on the Slate Islands. At one time, caribou lived as far south as the North Channel of Lake Huron, but humans have disturbed their habitat and forced them further north. The caribou supposedly first crossed over to the Slate Islands during a very cold winter in the early 1900s when the crossing was covered in ice. The caribou on the Slate Islands have thrived since then mainly because they rarely have any predators.

Photo by Erwin and Peggy Bauer, US Fish and Wildlife

Each summer for the last 35 years, there have been caribou researchers that visit the Slate Islands. They study the caribou and their behaviors, which have helped us to learn a lot about them.

We have seen many signs of caribou in many different places here. We have seen three caribou so far.



Information about woodland caribou:





Information about Slate Islands shatter cone:



Woodland Caribou photo source: http://digitalmedia.fws.gov/cdm4/item_viewer.php?CISOROOT=/natdiglib&CISOPTR=10897&CISOBOX=1&REC=1

Cast Your Vote

What should we study as we explore Pukaskwa National Park?

During the next two weeks we will be exploring one of the most wild remote sections of Lake Superior. The Trans-Canadian Highway heads East away from Lake Superior for over 100 miles there are no towns or roads near the lake. Much of this wilderness is in Pukaskwa National Park. We need you to help us decide what to study in this special place.

Pukaskwa National Park is named after the mysterious Pukaskwa Pits that are found in the park. Scientists are not sure why people built these stone pit in the ancient beaches along the shore, but they are thought to be between 500 and 2000 years old. We could visit some do these archeological sites and learn more about them.

There are many animals that live in Pukaskwa National Park. We could spend our time looking for animals like Black Bears, Bald Eagles and Timber Wolves.

Because Pukaskwa is far from towns and roads it gets really dark at night. On a clear night you can see the Milky Way and many constellations. If we are lucky we might even see the Northern Lights. We could spend time learning about the night sky far away from towns and light pollution.

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Dave’s Dilemma

What type of fishing liscense should Dan get?


A few days ago I purchased a fishing license in Terrace Bay. I have been fishing in the Slate Islands and have been catching lots of Lake Trout. I purchased a conservation fishing liscense for about $45, which allows me to keep 1 Lake Trout per day. Dan has been going out fishing with me, but because he does not have a license he can only watch. Dan wants to get a fishing liscense so that he can fish as well. He is not sure what type of liscense he should get. He could get a conservation liscense like mine for $45 or he could get a regular liscense for about $90. If he get a conservation liscense he could keep 1 Lake Trout per day and I could keep 1 per day. If he gets a regular liscense he could keep 3 Lake Trout per day and I could keep 1 Lake Trout per day.


Lake Trout come in many different sizes. The ones that I have caught so far have been between 1 pound and 4 pounds, but they can get much larger. Our team could easily eat 4 Lake Trout that are one pound each for dinner, or 2 Lake Trout that are 3 or 4 pounds each.

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