FRIDAYHARBOR, Wash. -- A research vessel following orcas feeding off the west side of San Juan Island Thursday was driven by a human but guided by a dog.
The crew of the boat works for University of Washington professor Sam Wasser who has spent years recruiting so-called scat dogs to help track down orca feces.
Some of their hundreds of samples provided the DNA for a new study that has scientists rethinking everything they thought they knew about orca breeding behaviors of the three pods ofendangered Southern Resident orcas.
The long held belief, based on studies of other resident pods, was that the pods mingled and mated with members of other pods to protect their genetic diversity. But researchers discovered through DNA samples that several orcas have mothers and fathers from the same pod.
Lead scientistslike Michael Ford of NOAA's Northwest Fisheries Science Center, are concerned what it means for the future of the orcas. But at this point, there are no obvious signs of the typical problems seen in inbred animals.