Dog chases whale scat

Credit: COURTESY OF HEATH SMITH" /> Credit: COURTESY OF HEATH SMITH If you're on Washington State's Puget Sound this summer, you may glimpse a boat carrying a stocky Australian cattle dog named Gator. When Gator's body is stiff, his mouth open, ears forward, tail erect, and nose twitching in the wind, you can plausibly conclude one thing: A killer whale has pooped nearby.Gator is one of 11 scat-detection dogs at the Center for Conservation Biology at the University of

Kirsten Weir
Aug 1, 2006
<figcaption> Credit: COURTESY OF HEATH SMITH</figcaption>
Credit: COURTESY OF HEATH SMITH

If you're on Washington State's Puget Sound this summer, you may glimpse a boat carrying a stocky Australian cattle dog named Gator. When Gator's body is stiff, his mouth open, ears forward, tail erect, and nose twitching in the wind, you can plausibly conclude one thing: A killer whale has pooped nearby.

Gator is one of 11 scat-detection dogs at the Center for Conservation Biology at the University of Washington, Seattle. Sam Wasser, the center's director, has been studying animals via their droppings for more than 20 years. Some animals are brazen about leaving a pile in the open, while others take pains to hide their waste. To eliminate sampling bias when collecting dung, Wasser began employing detection dogs to track the scat.

Not just any dog can do the job. Detection dogs must be completely, utterly obsessed with their toys. "They're not looking for...

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