Sniffer dogs are being deployed at checkpoints near lakes and rivers around the province in a bid to keep invasive mussels out of Alberta's waterways.

The dogs are specially trained to find zebra and quagga mussels — fingernail-sized freshwater molluscs that get attached to boats and can choke out native species and clog water intake pipes and machinery once they get established.

The Alberta–Montana Canine Mussel Detection Pilot, the first of its kind in Canada, will see the dogs deployed on both sides of the border to sniff out the mussels.  

mussels

The province has been experimenting with a potash treatment to poison the mussels in several harbours along Lake Winnipeg. (Terri Trembath/CBC)

Aimee Hurt, co-founder of Working Dogs for Conservation, says the animals can find the tiny hitch-hikers on the bottoms of boats and other watercraft.

“They find things by scent not by sight and since these mussels are really small and very hard for people inspectors to find, we're hoping to see if the dogs can help us find them by finding them by scent,” she said.

The dogs underwent specialized training in California, funded by the Alberta and Montana governments.

Quagga mussels arrived in Canada and the United States from Europe in the 1980s. Along with the closely-related zebra mussels, they cost governments in Eastern Canada and many U.S. states millions of dollars per year.

The invasive mussels haven't established themselves in Alberta. And no mussels have been found in B.C. waterways after several years of monitoring, according to the ministry of the environment.

Manitoba recently declared victory in its first battle with zebra mussels.

Corrections

  • An earlier version of this story said the invasive mussels were found in B.C.'s Shuswap Lake two years ago. In fact those mussels turned out to be long dead, government officials said.
    Aug 07, 2014 11:31 AM MT