A lot of people think I have a great job. My “mom,” for lack of a better word (I still remember my mom; she was furry and warm and smelly — Maria is only one of those, but I won’t tell you which one) writes a guidebook on great places to travel with dogs in California, and she often takes me along as her research assistant when checking out new places for updates.
But while we were perusing the Internet the other day, we came across a story about a dog who uses his nose for detection. Not unusual. Many working dogs do. Maria has even written about those guys in her latest book. Those soldier dogs sniff out bombs, and work in 120-degree heat with bullets flying at them. I wasn’t envious. Not of those war dogs, anyway.
This detector dog is another story, though. He uses his nose to detect something utterly delectable. Something indescribably complex with odors that are positively intoxifying. This dog, a black Labrador named Tucker, sniffs out poop. Not just any poop, but whale poop — that of orcas (killer whales), to be precise. And he does it in the name of science.
All I can say is lucky dog! He gets to hang out on boats in Washington state and British Columbia with cool people and sniff whale poop while the scent-tinged breeze makes his ears flap. And when he finds a scent, he’s praised like he’s just all that! AND he gets a ball or some mouth reward. Really? A job like this exists? They call that a working dog? I don’t know why their headhunter didn’t recommend me for it. Whatever.
Tucker was even thanked in a recent peer-reviewed study about the research. After acknowledging various humans, the authors wrote “Special thanks go to Tucker, the Conservation Canine, for his keen nose and assistance with non-invasive fecal sampling.”
I have to admit that his nose really is quite good. He can detect whale scat a mile away, which means the scientists don’t have to get too close to the whales to get samples. Because of this great distance, they can usually scoop the scat about 400 meters from the whales, leaving them relatively undisturbed. (Scat is a cool word for poop; I’m going to make Maria start using that instead of poop. “Do you have to go scat?” is so much less embarrassing if said in front of company, don’t you think?)
The scat is analyzed for levels of various stress hormones to see if environmental factors like noise or availability of food have an effect on the whales. You can read more about all this business (so to speak) in an article at MSNBC/USNews.
Tucker was chosen for the job because he was obsessive about playing with balls. It’s just like the dogs they choose for military dogs. They have to want that ball really badly in order to work hard for their paycheck. He quickly came to associate the scent of whale poop with a ball reward, and now he’s just Mr. I Have the Best Job in the World and You Don’t. I mean, look at him!
Tucker wasn’t always taken so seriously. Ha! Lead scientist Katherine Ayres has an amusing story about her first revelation of Tucker’s job.
“When I told my parents that I was going to train dogs to track whale poop from the bow of a boat for my Ph.D. dissertation, they must have laughed for a good twenty minutes straight. When the initial laughter burst had subsided into giggles, sighs and the wiping of hilarity-induced tears from their eyes, I said, ‘No really, that’s what I’m doing for my dissertation,’ “she said in an article in Companion Animal Solutions.
Okay, I have to admit Tucker is a pretty good guy. We four-leggeds have to stick together. Tucker, you pretty much rock, actually. But old buddy, old pal, if you EVER have a break in your schedule, if you ever feel like hanging out on the couch and watching TV for a week, call me and I’ll be up in a flash. My bags are packed. I’m waiting by the phone.