Exploring Isle Royale’s Wildlife

Exploring Isle Royale’s Wildlife

Isle Royale National Park is an extraordinary destination with a unique ecosystem that supports varied, albeit limited, animals and wildlife. While fish can swim and birds can fly the minimum 14 miles to the mainland, visitors to Isle Royale often wonder at how mammals, reptiles, and even non-flying insects came to be on the island.

Isle Royale’s wildlife has fascinated researchers and visitors alike for years, and tracking and monitoring efforts reveal that not only are wildlife populations continually changing, but so are the actual species that call the island home.

How Isle Royale’s Unique Geography And Climate Affects Wildlife

Isle Royale is located in the middle of Lake Superior, the most treacherous and unforgiving of the Great Lakes. The closest mainland is Minnesota, a minimum of 14 miles away.

For animals and wildlife, this means getting to the island is not easy. We know they weren’t on the island when it broke away from the mainland, because this is not how Isle Royale was formed. So, how did they do it?

  • Fish and birds can travel the short distance easily, and these are by far the most abundant wildlife on the island.
  • Mammals can walk across Lake Superior when it is frozen in the winter.
  • Insects and other small creatures can hitch a ride on private boats, ferries, or planes from the mainland – knowingly or unknowingly!

However, every living thing that arrives on the island must be able to survive the harsh winters if they are to reproduce and thrive.

What Lives On Isle Royale


Probably the most peculiar, and most studied, wildlife on the island are the wolf and moose.
The two groups have a very straightforward predator-prey relationship and they’ve coexisted successfully for many decades. Recently, however, the wolf population has dwindled. What was once a thriving pack of 50+ wolves is now down to just two or three. With wolves keeping the moose population in check, it will be interesting to see how the National Park Service handles this decline.

Amazingly, 100 years ago, neither of these species existed on the island. In their place were caribou, coyote and lynx. This shows how sensitive certain species can be to the delicate and ever-evolving ecosystem of the island.

In all, just 19 mammals call Isle Royale home, including the most abundant of all mammals, the chatty red squirrel.


Because birds can come and go from the island so easily, more than 1,000 species have been spied on the island during the last century when monitoring began. The list has changed significantly over time, and even today’s list contains a varied collection of year-round species, migrating species, and those that only come to the island to breed. A full list of Isle Royale’s known bird species can be found here.


When you think of an island in the middle of a lake, an abundance of fish probably comes to mind. Indeed, the island and the surrounding waters are home to more than 40 species of fish, some only found in the inland lakes and streams of the island. Some species that can be found here include lake whitefish, brook trout, and lake trout in the waters of Lake Superior; the inland lakes are home to yellow perch, northern pike, and walleye, and also the trout-perch, which is unique to the island. A full list of Isle Royale’s known fish species can be found here.

Book Your Trip Now With Isle Royale Seaplanes

The best way to learn about the wildlife of Isle Royale National Park is to experience it firsthand! Book your trip now with Isle Royale Seaplanes and experience an exhilarating 35 minute ride from Houghton, Michigan to Windigo or Rock Harbor where you’ll start your wilderness adventure.

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Hancock Portage Canal
Seaplane Base
21205 Royce Road
Hancock, MI 49930

Cook County Airport
123 Airport Road
Grand Marais, MN 55604

(906) 483-4991

Isle Royale Seaplanes


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