FBC introduces mussel sniffing dogs


MISSOULA, Mont. - A couple of new employees at the Flathead Basin Commission (FBC) put on a demonstration Friday in Missoula. Gull Boats and RV hosted the new FBC program of mussel sniffing dogs.

Mussels can do extensive damage to boats and other watercraft. Friday, members of the FBC planted a vile of mussels on a boat to see how quickly the dogs could sniff them out.

"Part of this is obviously to enhance inspections and the dogs can help with that," said Executive Director of the FBC Caryn Miske, "but the other part of it is to enhance our education. When you hand people a brochure, they may or may not read it, but when they see a dog and they interact with a dog, that's a completely different experience and I think that gets people much more engaged."

The dogs have to meet certain criteria before they can join the team. Members of the FBC say that the smelling of the mussels isn't the hard part. This job requires dogs with a lot of energy and stamina to sniff boats for days, weeks, and months at a time.

"I would say dogs compliment humans really well," said dog handler Deb Tirmenstein. "It's not like they replace humans in any way. Their (main) sense is smell, so they're actually focusing on different areas."

Mussels can do significant damage to boats by growing up into the engine and ultimately overheating it. What many don't know, is the effect mussels can have on non-boaters.

"There (are) significant impacts to hydroelectric," said Miske, "and frankly when the hydroelectric facilities are impacted, the ultimate cost of that gets passed to the consumer. so, I've heard people say well I'm not a boater it's not my problem. well if your electricity bill goes up, it's your problem."

Some facts about invasive mussels. They are originally from eastern Europe.

They appeared in the Great Lakes in the 1980's and by 1990 had infested all of them.

Now both quagga mussels and zebra mussels have spread to 29 different states.