During the summers of 2011 and 2012 (and a number of times since then), I worked on a research boat looking at the endangered southern resident orca, a subspecies of orca found around southern Vancouver Island. Whilst on the boats we would often encounter other researchers and chat about the work they were doing. One of my favourite boats to see and interact with was the Conservation Canines program that researches animals and their habitat by using dogs to help collect poo. Now whilst it may sound strange, poo is highly valuable in wildlife research, the data collected from faeces can determine the health of individuals, as well as a population and give an insight into their life cycle. For the southern resident orca project the ‘Conservation Canine’ is Tucker, the black lab, and Tucker has helped the team to publish papers on the health and diet of the orcas, and to see the impact that toxins in the water are having on the population.
It was always such a joy to see the excitable black lab hanging off the front of the research boat hunting for orca poo. Tucker is a great example about how working animals, mostly dogs, are a vital part of conservation. Tucker started the program in 2006, and at the grand age of 13, he has been given a well-earned retirement, but I know that many people who have worked on the water with the orcas will be sad to see him go. But, the Conservation Canine program does not end with him, starting next year Jack, a 5 year old Australian Cattle mix, will be taking over and sniffing out that important orca poo!
Have a look at Tucker in action in this video by the BBC!