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Teaching old dogs new tricks: sniffer dogs helping detect seabirds - RSPB

Golden retriver dog, head down sniffing along a big bank of grey rocks
Islay the golden retriever was trained to locate and indicate storm petrel (© Mark Bolton)

In the paper published recently in the Journal Seabird, the RSPB team documented the training, testing and performance of a one-year old golden retriever to detect the scent of European storm petrels, and whether the dog could differentiate between those and Manx shearwaters; and a 12-year old border collie’s ability to detect Manx shearwaters breeding in natural burrows and artificial nest boxes.

Scent dogs have regularly been used for conservation for decades, including detecting elusive and endangered animals. They are particularly effective at detecting birds that breed in cavities and are only active above ground nocturnally (such as kiwis and kakapos).

Many seabirds show these same characteristics and some, including the storm petrels, are well-known for their strong odour. However, using scent dogs to detect seabirds has not been common practice in UK despite difficulties in locating, and surveying, their burrows.

The findings are extremely promising in highlighting the value of scent dogs to determine the presence of particular seabird species at breeding sites where their presence is unknown.

RSPB Principal Conservation Scientist and lead author of the paper, Mark Bolton said: “This work highlights the remarkable scent detection capabilities of dogs and their largely untapped potential to assist seabird monitoring in UK. The recent use of specially-trained scent dogs to locate the nest burrows of storm petrels at a newly-discovered colony on the Isle of May last autumn is further evidence of the real-world potential of scent dogs for seabird monitoring and I hope that this study will encourage more conservation practitioners to utilise scent dogs in their work.”

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Posted On: 22/02/2022

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