Wind turbines are a great source of renewable energy in blustery climates, but like every solution, there are potential risks to be weighed as well. Turbines take a toll on local birds, bats, and insects, and although the effects of turbines on large birds like condors and eagles are well known, we have less information on how they affect smaller animals. This is mostly because they are harder to spot. Fortunately, researchers have found a new way to sniff out the real impact of turbines: dogs.
Researchers have found that dogs deployed in turbine fields are able to locate 96 percent of dead bats, compared to the human detection rate of just six percent. This is why organizations like Rogue Detection Teams are in such high demand. The organization describes itself as a conservation-detection-dog company. They take in strays and surrendered pets to be retrained as animal-detection devices. Dogs with high energy levels and an insatiable appetite for play generally make the best detection dogs.
The issue of bat deaths first came to researchers’ attention in 2003 when 2,000 bats were found dead on a West Virginia wind farm. It appears that certain species of nesting bats perceive the turbines as tall safe trees and are actually attracted to them. Understanding the magnitude of bird and bat deaths can inform researchers on how to best protect these species. For example, they can install ultrasonic white noise machines to deter bats or decrease turbine turn speed during peak migration season.
So what does bat detection with dogs look like? Trainer Kayla Fratt explains to The Atlantic that she begins by ordering frozen bats and then hides them in Tupperware containers around the house. Once her dogs have mastered finding them in the house, she moves on to a local park, and then a larger open field. Once they’re consistently finding all the bats, they’re ready for the wind farm. The dogs are able to not only locate many more dead birds and bats but also do so in far less time than humans. Once an animal is located, it’s examined and logged to inform conservation efforts.
Although these dogs are not actually saving bats quite yet, they are providing the vital information necessary to make wind farms as ecologically friendly as possible and identify regions where birds and bats are particularly vulnerable to wind operations.