Washington eyes dog to detect invasive mussels on boats

Washington eyes dog to detect invasive mussels on boats

Invasive Zebra mussl cluster via wikimedia commons 

SPOKANE, Wash. — A dog could soon be helping check boats and prevent invasive mussels from entering the state, the Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife said.

The agency tells KREM-TV that the dog will likely be stationed in Spokane and work mostly at the Stateline boat check station looking for quagga and zebra mussels. The agency said it will use grant money to purchase the canine help sometime next year.

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"When you have physical inspections with a technician, an inspection could take five to 10 minutes," said Eric Anderson of the Department of Fish and Wildlife. "When you have a dog, it's able to sniff the outside of the boat. That inspection could go down to maybe a minute or two minutes."

Quagga and zebra mussels siphon in water to pluck out microscopic organisms that can throw food chains out of balance, and their sheer numbers in attaching to surfaces can clog pipes at reservoirs and damage boat motors. Giant water bodies turning aquamarine blue is a sign that the base of the food chain is being depleted, risking starvation for other species, including sport fish.

Quagga mussels approach an inch (2.5 centimeters) in length while zebra mussels can be about twice that size. The species are native to Russia and Ukraine, and are believed to have arrived in the U.S. in the 1980s aboard ships that released ballast water into the Great Lakes.

They attach to boats and trailers and travel long distances, and their microscopic larvae can survive in water inside a boat or even an angler's wading boots. Also, the mussels can sense toxins and close their shells.

Officials said a dog could even detect the mussels if they make it into a local lake.

"It's huge," Anderson said. "It's going to be a great asset to the program."

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