In recent years, moose numbers in northern states, typically hotbeds for moose, have dwindled. But here in Massachusetts, it seems like we've seen more of them in an unconventional places — three were spotted in Worcester this month. David Stainbrook, a deer and moose biologist with the state, spoke with WGBH Radio’s Arun Rath about moose populations in New England. The transcript below has been edited for clarity.

Arun Rath, First off, could you give us a crash course on the moose that are living in this area? I didn't realize there was more than one kind of moose — I thought a moose was a moose. Could you tell us who these moose are, what they look like, what they eat, where they live?

David Stainbrook: There really is only one subspecies of moose in our area. And we had moose historically throughout New England, and during colonization, a lot of the species were extirpated from the state, including moose. The few moose that were able to survive were further north, and it took a really long time for them to come back.

They're more commonly found through New Hampshire, Vermont and Maine. But in Massachusetts, on the northern side where we border New Hampshire and Vermont, we started getting some reports of a few moose here and there back in the 50s, 60s and 70s. But we really didn't start to see a more established population until closer to the late 90s, into the 2000s. It kind of peaked at around 2004, that's when we had the most reports of moose sightings. And then from that point on, it kind of stabilized and maybe decreased a little bit, until today. We kind of see this pretty stable population within Massachusetts.

Rath: So David, is it the case that the number of moose in northern New England states have dropped, while here in Massachusetts they've remained steady? And why would that be the case?

Stainbrook: Yes, that appears to be what we're seeing at this point in time. But that might not be the case in the future. 2004 seems to be the peak of when moose kind of came back into Massachusetts. We haven't really seen those numbers decline that much over that period of time from the measures that we use. Whereas what we've seen in research further north, into northern New Hampshire, northern Vermont and into Maine, they have seen pretty high mortality rates with their moose from both winter tick and even some other parasites such as brain worm. We’re still trying to do the research to find out just why that is, but some of the preliminary thoughts on it are that it might be something that's related to their density on the landscape.

Rath: Is it kind of the case that with a bigger, thicker on the ground moose population, diseases can spread more quickly in that situation?

Stainbrook: It's more that this tick, it really only uses moose for its host. And so it needs to have moose on the landscape walking through for the tick life-cycle to continue. And so if the moose densities are lower on the landscape, there's less of a chance that they will be able to find a new host to get on.

Rath: Interesting. I'm curious, you know — a large animal like this that's coming back into the forest, what kind of role do the moose play in the New England ecosystem?

Stainbrook: I mean, they're a large mammal within the forest. They're really not predated on by any of the predators that we currently have. Historically, you would have had wolves and mountain lions being able to take some of them, weak and injured, and even their calves. Actually, one of the biggest issues that they run into are vehicle collisions. Usually if you see a deer on the side of the road at nighttime, their eyes will shine and you can kind of slow down because you see deer. With moose, you rarely get that eye shine. So you do have to be very careful. Usually the people that do hit moose have no idea they were even there. The time of the year where we see the most moose collisions is September, October and into November. And then deer is usually November.

Rath: Wow. And when people are outside of their vehicles, if you happen to have a moose encounter in the wild or the near wild, I imagine it's probably smart to give these animals a good distance?

Stainbrook: Even though we have moose in the state, they're still relatively elusive, considering their large size. And a lot of that is just that they don't tend to be spending much time in areas near where people are. But if you do happen to be in the woods and you come across a moose, usually they're going to run away, you're not going to have an encounter with them. But if it just so happens that you happen to sneak up on a moose and it didn't expect you to be there, you do want to give it space. If you have a dog with you, you want to make sure that dog is leashed. With moose, from the time those calves are born, they’re with their mom all the time. And so they will actively protect their calf. So you do have to be careful of that, if you happen to come across a cow and a calf in the woods, you should be aware that she will protect that calf.