Photos: Dog Helps Researchers Save Orcas By Scent-Tracking Whale Feces

by Jon D. B.
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Orca researchers have a new, adorable ally in the form of Eba – a specially-trained dog who scent-tracks the whale feces they’re after.

Can you imagine trying to find one sample of feces (i.e. …poop) in the vastness of the ocean? Let alone anything at all? This is the task marine biologists are often saddled with. Luckily for this Center for Conservation Biology team, they have a wonderdog on their side. Her name? Eba.

Eba is helping her human orca researcher friends track feces floating in the ocean. And she does it all with a sense of smell at least 5x greater than our own. Such a powerful nose allows her to pick up the scat scent over a mile away.

For scientists, this is invaluable. Orca – or any whale – scat allows for determining the animal’s individual DNA. From there, biologists can then tell everything from their most recent meals, if they’re pregnant, and importantly – what is causing them stress in their environment.

Eba the whale tracking dog

According to Pacific Ocean-based Orca conservationists Wild Orca, however, Eba wasn’t always on the science scene.

The medium-sized mixed-breed was left in the cold outside of a California animal shelter. When the University of Washington staff found her, they weren’t sure she would survive the night. But survive she did. In 2017, one of the UW killer whale biologists -Deborah Giles- adopted Eba. And the rest is history.

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Deborah Giles says she held a hunch that Eba would be a good candidate for her university’s Conservation Canines program. The program trains dogs on the scents of specific wildlife to help scientists track and study them. Since Giles works on orcas, Eba would, too.

“By Eba’s second day on the water … she found her first wild whale scat by herself,” Giles adds.

“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,” Giles continues, bragging on Eba. “Then it might be a series of zigzags back and forth. It’s amazing the dogs can do this work.”

How does Eba do it?

Working in tandem with her humans, Eba follows the scent (as Giles describes above). As she tracks it, she uses her body to provide signals to the crew. Depending on where she points, the boats’ driver will follow. Even if she seems to be zigzagging, her companions have complete trust in her – and do as she says.

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Eba’s biggest discovery so far? Giles and her team were able to use a feces sample that Eba located to make a startling breakthrough. From it, they determined that the orcas of the Pacific are less stressed by the presence of boats than they thought. Instead, it’s a lack of their usual fish that is causing great harm to their bodies and numbers.

“Being able to collect these fecal samples at a distance where we’re not stressing out the individuals is another really important part of this study,” Giles tells Fox News.

Eba’s hard work has paid off for her, too. Since getting her start as a whale poop expert, this amazing dog has been featured on an episode of Disney+’s “It’s a Dogs Life with Bill Farmer” in 2019. From there, she’ll appear in the documentary series “The Age of Nature” for PBS.

If you want to catch Eba’s episode, it premieres on PBS this October 21st.

Until then, you can watch Eba do what she does best courtesy of her local Fox News branch:

[H/T Fox News]

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