Click here to learn more.
Back in 2008, Tucker the black Lab was just another canine resident at SnoLine Kennels in Arlington, Wash. — until he caught the eye of Sam Wasser, director of the Center for Conservation Biology and the Conservation Canines at the University of Washington.
“Tucker was everything we were looking for in a dog,” says Katherine Ayres, lead author of a recent study on whales published in PLoS ONE, in which Tucker had a starring role. “He was a play-driven black Lab that loved to work with his handlers — and he hated water!”
This proved to be a favorable personality trait, since Ayres and her team needed Tucker to stay put on a boat while using his stellar nose to sniff out killer whale feces that they could then collect and test for stress hormones back in the laboratory.
Before Wasser came up with the groundbreaking idea to use a dog as a scat detector, researchers had to follow closely behind whales to collect samples — not an ideal situation when you're tracking animals that are already endangered.
But with Tucker onboard, the scientists could stay as far away as 400 meters from the marine mammals, reducing any disturbance to the orca pods.
“He also minimizes any bias in the sampling, since we are not selecting which whales to follow,” Ayres says, “making our sampling more random and more representative of the whales that are present.”
The ultimate goal of Ayres' study was to test the levels of various stressors in killer whale populations. Her findings: Not having enough salmon to eat is a bigger deal for whales than having boatloads of whale watchers in their vicinity.
It’s an important discovery because conservationists have been trying to decipher what’s most important when it comes to helping the endangered species thrive. Based on Ayres' work, researchers have concluded that while boats are a key consideration when it comes to whale welfare, the impact of vessels can be minimized as long as fish levels are kept high in the area.
Although Ayres' study is now complete, Tucker’s science career is just getting started. He’ll continue to track orcas through the University of Washington’s Conservation Canines program — and he recently traveled to St. Lucia to track iguanas.
Not a bad gig for a pound puppy.
Like this article? Have a point of view to share? Let us know!
Thank You For Signing Up
for the Petwire newsletter, sending you all the pet news each week directly to your inbox.
Get the latest pet news, tips, tricks, and expert advice sent right to your inbox!
A baby squirrel who fell 75 feet from her nest is being nursed back to health at a rehabilitation center in…
Jan Jeffries, Jr., was working at a miserable jobsite when he encountered a dog who would change his life forever.
With their adorable matching outfits, best friends Zoey and Jasper have quickly become the new darlings of the…
With Easter on our minds, we combed our database of rabbits names to find out the 10 most popular monikers of 2013.
Dentistry used to be the outcast of the veterinary world. Now many vets dedicate tons of time to oral care for…
Our friends at JeanKnowsCars.com reveal cars that are great for pet owners, from versatile minivans to rugged SUVs.
With Easter coming up this weekend, we jumped at the opportunity to celebrate the holiday's most iconic species.
The Abyssinian, who wears a beautiful ticked coat, is an intelligent and athletic feline who stays in constant…
If the video doesn't start playing momentarily,
please install the latest version of Flash.