A dog named Tucker, a stray found roaming the streets of Seattle, has become an unexpected star in the realm of canine-assisted science. He is the world’s only working dog, marine biologists say, able to find and track the scent of orca scat, or feces, in open ocean water — up to a mile away, in the smallest of specks.
Scat can sink or disperse in 30 minutes or less. But it is crucial in monitoring the health of the whales off the Pacific Northwest, an endangered group that is probably among the most studied animal populations in the world.
Most of the 85 or so orcas, or killer whales, that frequent the San Juans, about two hours northwest of Seattle, have been genotyped and tracked for decades, down to their birth years and number of offspring.
“He’s very subtle,” said Deborah A. Giles told a New York Times reporter while sitting behind the wheel of the research vessel Moja as Tucker, an 8-year-old black Lab mix, paced at the prow on a recent afternoon.