Tucker’s handler holds his leash tightly as the dog pulls forward and leans over the open bow of a small Grady-White dual console. Tucker is on the trail of a prized finding for biologists in Washington — whale feces, or scat.
Tucker, a 10-year-old black lab rescued as a stray a decade ago from the streets of Seattle, has become a celebrity in canine-assisted science. He can find orca poop in open ocean water up to a mile away — even if it’s a scant piece of scat.
Despite their size, orcas leave only trace amounts of feces that disperse or sink in about a half hour or less. A biological research organization from the University of Washington called Conservation Canines uses service dogs like Tucker to sniff out excrement. The research being carried out in this video is for the study of 79 members of an orca colony known as the Southern Resident Killer Whales.
When Tucker’s nose catches a whiff of the stuff, he starts pouncing on the rubber mats the scientists have placed on the bow, wagging his tail violently and pulling forward trying to get as close to the smelly slime as possible.
The scientists use beakers attached to boat poles to gather the feces, which is used to analyze the health of the whales. While they’re scooping, bottling and tagging the specimens Tucker plays with his payment for his efforts — a hunk of green rubber tethered to a length of line.
Tucker needs a raise.