Tag Archives: ambergris

Scat Dogs of the High Seas

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File this post in the “Things you might never know if you don’t go to the museum” category.

Whales are mysterious creatures, but scientists can learn a lot about them by studying whale poop. They can learn about the whales’ eating habits, whether they are male or female, whether they are healthy or under a lot of stress. The scientists can even use DNA testing to identify individual animals and learn whether female whales are pregnant.

That’s useful information. But here’s the problem: finding whale scat (scat is another word for animal poop) in something as large as the ocean is like looking for a needle in a haystack.

Luckily, there’s a solution.

As anyone who has ever walked a dog knows, dogs love to sniff. Sniffing around the ground, for a dog, is like reading a good book with a complicated story. The weirder the smells, the more interesting the story.

So imagine the lucky dog that gets to go out on the trail of some of the Earth’s largest creatures.

Once they are trained to know what to sniff for, dogs riding in the front of boats can help marine biologists find whale poop floating in the water. Dogs can even smell whale poop from one mile away, which you have to admit is pretty amazing.

Since learning how to get help from trained pooches, scientists now find four times as much, err…, research material, as they used to find. That means they have greater access to all kinds of useful data. Not bad.

Another Interesting Thing About Whale Poop: Sometimes poop from a whale with an upset stomach contains a particular substance that hardens into a waxy, almost rock-like object after floating around the surface of the sea for years and years. It is called ambergris and can wash up on any beach in the world. It has a unique smell that is very valuable to perfume makers. In 2012, an 8-year-old boy walking on a beach in England found a chunk of ambergris that weighed a little over a pound. It turned out to be worth $63,000.


TERMS
Scat: another word for animal poop
Ambergris: waxlike substance that originates in the intestines of a sperm whale

SOURCES
North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences

Science for Kids

KomoNews.com

National Geographic