Friday, December 21, 2007

These dogs have a nose for doo-doo

Dogs possess such an extraordinary sense of smell that they can distinguish among the feces of 18 species at once, making them ideal tracking aids for conservation biologists hoping to cover a lot of ground. Or water. Beyond helping document grizzly and black bear behavior in Alberta’s vast Jasper National Park, the dogs have located floating feces from endangered North Atlantic right whales in Canada’s Bay of Fundy and from the Pacific Northwest’s declining orca population. Remarkably, some of the poop snoopers perched on the bows of research vessels have tracked down whale scat more than one nautical mile away. Among the growing number of scat-detection dogs used to track wildlife by land or by sea, the canines employed by the University of Washington’s Center for Conservation Biology are showing that no technology can yet outdo their know-how for doo-doo. Samuel Wasser, the center’s director, said feces is the easiest part of an animal to collect and a “treasure trove” of vital information. Apart from diet, scat can reveal the species, sex and identity of an individual through DNA, while released hormones can record an animal’s nutritional state, reproductive status and stress levels. (via)