TODAY’S SEATTLE CATALYST: Sam Wasser is the director for the University of Washington’s Center for Conservation Biology.
WHAT HE’S DOING: Sam’s work has taken him around the globe. He’s battled ivory trafficking in Africa, studied wolves in Eastern Washington, and kept an eye on our own southern resident killer whales. His primary research tool: studying animal poop. Wasser’s lab at the University of Washington analyzes scat to answer all kinds of questions, including how hungry or stressed individual animals are, as well as if they’ve given birth recently. Feces testing can also help unlock larger questions about where species are moving and if their populations are increasing or decreasing. All this poking around in animal poop gives us a better understanding of why our resident orcas are declining and what policymakers can do to address it.
FUN FACT: Sam’s team uses trained dogs to detect floating orca poop, which he then collects and brings back to his lab for testing.
QUOTABLE: “Scat… it’s the most accessible animal product in nature, and there’s a huge amount of information in the sample.”
HOW YOU CAN GET INVOLVED: In order to collect orcas’ poop, scientists have to find it. And to find the whales, it helps to be able to hear them. Researchers have set up a network of underwater microphones in the Salish Sea. You can help out by listening and recording what you hear.