Manitoba employing dogs to sniff out invasive zebra mussels

Zebra mussels

Manitoba is adding more muscle to its war on zebra mussels.

The province is ramping up the fight against the invasive species affecting its freshwaters by enlisting the help of two canines units. Together with another detection dog who has already been deployed, a six-year-old German Shepherd named Fauna will be patrolling border crossings and inspection stations this summer. The dogs have been trained to sniff out zebra mussels on watercrafts and water-related equipment.

“It’s a simple search. She uses her nose. She doesn’t scratch. She doesn’t bite at anything or bark,” handler Chad Moir told the CBC. “If she ever finds something, she just sits down.”

The highly invasive aquatic animals have been a costly and significant environmental concern since they were first found in Manitoba’s lakes and rivers in October 2013. The freshwater mollusks invade and reproduce quickly, attaching themselves to hulls and the surfaces of boats and other watercrafts. Once they have established themselves, they can clog water intake pipes and machinery as well as choke out native plants and wildlife.

Fauna the sniffer dog. Photo courtesy of Ryan Cheale/CBC.

Despite previous attempts to control the zebra mussels by treating harbours with potash, the mussels survived and populations soared. The province is rolling out ads and billboards urging people to clean their boats and equipment properly and launching a watercraft inspection program for the third consecutive summer. Manitoba has also added new decontamination units to ensure that boats are not carrying the mussels or their larvae.

Conservation and Water Stewardship Minister Tom Nevakshonoff says everyone must work together to combat zebra mussels in Manitoba.

“Fighting the expansion of this highly invasive species takes a concerted effort by everyone who enjoys our lakes and rivers,” Nevakshonoff told the CBC. “Now, more than ever, we need everyone’s support and vigilance.”