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Meet Dory, the dog detective of sea turtle nests

Free the Ocean Blog

Meet Dory, the dog detective of sea turtle nests

Every year between May and October, the southeastern U.S. becomes a maternity ward for sea turtles. These reptiles, belonging to five different species, make a night-time dash to lay their eggs on the very beach of their birth. But there’s a twist – sometimes they leave without laying any eggs, creating misleading tracks!

Humans vs. Dory

While dedicated volunteers spend hours looking for the right tracks and digging numerous holes to find these hidden nests, a furry hero named Dory has stepped up to the challenge. According to a new study, Dory, with her sniffing superpowers, has pinpointed sea turtle egg locations with surprising accuracy.

Dory isn’t just any dog. She’s a rescued two-year-old terrier mix trained by Pepe Peruyero, an expert dog behaviorist. With a nose trained for “cloacal mucus” (the gooey substance coating a sea turtle’s freshly laid eggs), Dory embarked on an exciting quest against human volunteers to see who could find more nests.

The Astonishing Results

Over two nesting seasons in Vero Beach, Florida, Dory flagged down 560 nests from three different turtle species. In comparison, the humans located just 256! What’s even more impressive is that Dory chose the right spots to dig, reducing unnecessary holes and patrol time. When it came to finding nests, while humans missed nearly 15% of them, Dory only missed about 5.7%!

Especially with larger turtles like the leatherback, which can be a nightmare for human volunteers due to the large disturbed area, Dory showed her prowess. Although this study had limited data on this species, all the leatherback nests discovered were on Dory’s watch!

A Legacy Beyond Dory

Dory isn’t alone in her talent. Other pups like Ridley Ranger, a Cairn terrier, and Captain Ron, a beagle, have shown promise in the past. Though some believe well-trained human volunteers can also effectively find nests, the efficiency of a dog like Dory in pressing situations, such as when a nest is threatened by an incoming tide or construction, can’t be ignored.

Matthew Godfrey, a sea turtle biologist, does wonder whether trained humans might match Dory’s skills, suggesting that with the right training, our two-legged counterparts could be equally efficient.

Photo Credit: Courtesy of Walt Disney Resort

From Hero to Homebody

While Dory has hung up her detective hat, trading early morning beach patrols for a cozy family life in Fort Lauderdale, her legacy continues. Conservationists like Rebekah Lindborg are excited about what Dory’s success could mean for future sea turtle conservation.

Dory’s journey shows that sometimes, the best conservationists have four legs and a wagging tail!

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