Dog Helps Save Endangered Whales By Sniffing Their Poop
A dog’s nose knows. They are often used for many different purposes, thanks to their very attuned noses. And one little mixed breed rescue pup named Eba happens to use her superpower to help save orcas living off the coast of Washington state.
Little Eba was only weeks old when she was abandoned just outside the Sacramento animal shelter in California. At the time, the little pup barely tipped the scale at 3.5 pounds.
She was all wet and cold when she arrived, so she needed the help of a heating pad to bring her body temperature back up to a level where it would register on a thermometer.
It took months of care to eventually get the pooch to full health. During her recovery, there were a few hiccups along the way such as a little mishap when she got out from her foster home. But eventually through it all, the little pup found her forever home with Dr. Deborah Giles, a killer whale researcher who works for the University of Washington Center for Conservation Biology.
Dr. Giles shared with TODAY that she could never have anticipated just how valuable Eba would become to the conservation effort.
Eba ended up inspiring Conservation Canines, a program run by the Center for Conservation Biology to rescue dogs from shelters and then train them to detect wildlife scat, which is known to the rest of us as poop.
The rescue dogs who show a strong desire to play with toys are usually the ones who prove to be naturals for detection training. And their rewards for a successful scat find is always a play session with their favorite toy.
Dr. Giles first began to suspect that Eba could possibly have a future in detection work was when she observed her pooch being very persistent about playtime with a colleague of hers. Eba kept trying to get Dr. Giles’ coworker to play ball with her. This sparked an idea with Dr. Giles who then asked the program’s director, Dr. Samuel Wasser, if Eba could accompany her out to sea. Dr. Wasser agreed and Dr. Giles then set off on a boat in the Salish Sea with Eba, taking the pup with her to where she observes the Southern Resident killer whales off the Canadian Gulf Islands and Washington state’s San Juan Islands.
That is where the training began. Eba proved to be quite natural at staying afloat in the water given that the 30-pound pooch has a low center of gravity. Dr. Giles began to get Eba accustomed to the scent of the Southern Resident orca scat. And after a few weeks of intense learning, Eba was able to associate the scat smell with a reward of a toy – and thus she was ready to go to work.
It might seem gross, but it’s necessary work since conservation biologists, such as Dr. Giles, can gather a wealth of information and knowledge about a whale’s overall health from examining their scat. They can measure their stress levels, identify pregnancy as well as how far along the whale is in her pregnancy, determine what their nutrition levels are and what they’re eating, as well as test for the presence of chemicals or other pollutants.
Currently, the Southern Resident killer whales have a pod of about 74 whales, including two babies. That is why finding scat samples and documenting the data is very important as it can help to inform and influence not just the public, but policymakers as well. The scat of these particular whales is actually smaller than that of some species. It’s not easy to spot from a distance, and researchers try to avoid getting up close and personal with the whale pod in order to avoid stressing them out.
And that is where the trained nose of a dog comes in, as they can literally smell it from a mile away. As Dr. Giles has shared with TODAY, Eba has quite the tell when she’s picked up a scent trail. Her entire demeanor changes and she begins whining, sniffing the air, and getting frantic. Dr. Gile will then observe her dog closely, using hand signals of her own to communicate to the boat’s driver exactly where to go according to Eba. Dr. Giles has admitted that on occasion, they’ll have to changes courses on various occasions because of the way the scat floats along in the water.
She explained to the news oulet, “As we pass through the center of scent cone, which is the strongest portion of that smell, she’ll whip around to the side of the boat to tell us, ‘Hey, wait a minute — you’ve passed it.’ That’s when we turn into the wind. Then it might be a series of zigzags back and forth. It’s amazing the dogs can do this work.”
Meet an unusual research assistant during The Age of Nature, a documentary series that explores humanity’s relationship with nature and wildlife. #AgeOfNaturePBS begins Wed, Oct 14 at 10/9c. https://t.co/ihbfPKQKhe
— PBS (@PBS) October 7, 2020
Eba’s impressive work as a scat dog has even gotten her featured on the PBS series, “The Age of Nature.” The three-part documentary series premiered on the 14th of October and follows the human relationship with nature and wildlife across all seven continents. The documentary is narrated by Uma Therman.
Eba has become quite the little celebrity between her appearance on a television documentary, having her own website, and being a social media pet-fluencer. And while these may seem like big deals, the pooch is undaunted by her status as a celebrity. For Eba, she’s just happy she gets to go to work every day with her best friend.
Dr. Giles even stated to TODAY that as soon as she takes the turn for the road to the boat, Eba’s tail starts going wild.
This sweet pup may not know it, but she is playing a very important role in helping endangered animals recover their numbers. And at this time when we need to make a major change in how we treat our world, that is huge! Well done. Eba!