Meet Eba

Eba is a 5-year-old mixed-breed dog who was abandoned outside a shelter in California. When found by staff, she was so cold and wet that they thought that she might not survive. Today, Eba lives on San Juan Island, Washington State, adopted in 2017 by killer whale biologist, Dr. Deborah Giles. Not only is she special to Giles, in 2019 Eba was trained by Conservation Canines to help save the endangered Southern Resident killer whales.

How can dogs help whales?

Monitoring the health of wild whales is challenging and risky— to whales and people—often using a biopsy dart to collect a blubber sample. Eba is trained to detect whale poop, and this can reveal as much information about the whales’ health as a biopsy, but without risking injury. Wild whales don’t poop on demand, but fortunately, it often happens at the surface, and if you can get to it quickly it can be collected for analysis.

Why use dogs?

Dogs are well-known for their remarkable sense of smell and have worked for decades in search and rescue and law enforcement. Their detection skills were first adapted for wildlife conservation by Dr. Sam Wasser—founder of Conservation Canines—to monitor a variety of endangered species from wolves to whales. Conservation Canines uses rescue dogs like Eba, whose play-obsessed personalities can make them challenging family pets, but ideal dog detectives, rewarded with playtime when successful.

How do you train a whale dog like Eba?

Working in a boat is the most challenging type of dog detection work. There are two elements – first learning the unique scents of different whale poop, and then, importantly, how to direct Giles and crew to travel in the right direction to collect the sample before it sinks. Wind, waves and currents all make the scent harder to hone in on, but Eba uses body language to keep the boat pointing towards the floating treasure. 

What can we learn from whale poop?

An amazing amount! A single sample analyzed in Dr. Wasser’s lab can reveal the DNA of an individual whale, and distinguish recent meals by species. It can identify a pregnancy, measure stress levels, and detect chemicals and other pollutants such as plastics. So not only can the overall health of the whales be monitored, but also the health of their environment—of the salmon, and the rivers and streams that flow into the Salish Sea.

Why is orca health monitoring important?

Monitoring tells us these orcas are hungry and stressed from living in polluted, noisy waters without sufficient wild salmon to keep them healthy. By identifying the causes of starvation and disease, we can work with policymakers and fisheries managers to identify ways to increase the populations of the wild salmon they depend upon, and improve the health of the entire ecosystem they live in.  Not just good for whales, it’s good for all of us. 

Help fund this important research!

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Wild Orca &Conservation Canines

The Southern Resident killer whale scat project is a program of the University of Washington’s Center for Conservation Biology – Conservations Canines. In collaboration with Conservation Canines, Wild Orca serves as a public outreach and individual-funding provider.

Photo Credit:Cover - Bryce MahwhinneySpy Hop - Jeff Hogan / Killer Whale TalesAdditional Photos are taken under NMFS Permit 22141