A dutiful dog that’s spent the last several years snout-deep in orca poop is calling it quits.
Tucker, a 13-year-old black labrador retriever, is finally retiring from one of the most important positions at the University of Washington’s Center for Conservation Biology. He has helped researchers understand more about the animals and their environment by using his olfactory expertise to find orca poop. Scientists are then able to study the scat and translate it into “fecal data.”
Tucker’s work has been essential in furthering the research of environmental dangers the orcas face.
“We know that if the whales were at a healthy weight, we wouldn’t be seeing such high levels of toxins in their fecal matter,” Collette Yee, field research scientist at Conservation Canines, told the San Juan Journal.
Those toxins are stored in blubber and amplified when the whales cannot find enough to eat, Yee continued. The problem is further exacerbated by a “lack of prey, increased toxins, and vessel disturbance.”
With Tucker’s help, scientists managed to isolate hormones in the orca scat to learn more about their reproductive patterns. An estimated two-thirds of the pregnancies in the orcas studied between 2008 and 2014 failed, a trend that’s believed to be related to the rapidly decreasing Chinook population, and has many worried about the orcas’ future.
Tucker’s shoes will be filled by Jack, a 5-year-old Australian cattle dog, also from Conservation Canines. The organization trains dogs to help with conservation efforts throughout the world, from locating orcas along the North American Pacific coast to finding elephants on the African savannah.
Tucker was trained to sniff out several different species when he joined the Conservation Canines team in 2006, the University of Washington website indicates, after he was rescued from a local kennel, as were all his coworkers. He is able to discriminate and hone in on the scent patterns of the arboreal iguana, gray wolf, moose, wolverine, and, of course, orca.
Jack was trained to locate wolverines and Townsend’s long-eared bats, while his part-time partner, Dio, is an expert at finding wolverine scat and the carcasses of bats and birds.
“It amazes me what these dogs can do,” Yee said. “The fact that they can pinpoint a sample as small as a quarter from over a kilometer away in the open ocean is incredible. There seem to be very few things these dogs can’t find.”
Watch a younger Tucker locate deer scat in snow in the video below.
The dogs at UW will continue to put their snouts up to the task. The future of our planet’s orcas may depend on it.
Orca whales are being hunted and killed off the coast of the small island nation of St. Vincent and The Grenadines under a governmental provision for an indigenous tradition that few still uphold and one that should be brought to an end. Click the button below and make a difference!
Matthew Russell is a West Michigan native and with a background in journalism, data analysis, cartography and design thinking. He likes to learn new things and solve old problems whenever possible, and enjoys bicycling, going to the dog park, spending time with his daughter, and coffee.