Eba. Illustration by Kim La Fave.
Illustration by Kim La Fave.

Feel-Good Chicken Salad

On the lookout for Eba, the whale-poop sniffing dog

Keep your eyes open for Eba, an alert, intelligent, medium-sized white dog in a red life vest, when you’re cruising the Gulf and San Juan islands this summer. Downwind from and well behind swimming orcas, she’ll be hard at work. Her job is to sniff out whale poop so Dr. Deborah Giles, scientist and researcher working with Dr. Sam Wasser at the University of Washington Center for Conservation Biology, can scoop it up for analysis by researchers in Dr. Wasser’s lab.

The whales need our help. On both sides of the border, other organizations are also searching for ways to bolster salmon runs and reduce stressors that imperil our resident orcas.


In Canada, marine biologists from Fisheries and Oceans Canada and the University of British Columbia, along with several other groups, have been collecting and analyzing data for over 40 years.

Our orcas are as familiar to many of the researchers as their own extended families. They know their names, their ages and how they are related. They know their histories and understand the threats to their well-being.

A prime indicator of overall health is birth rate. It’s easy to discover how many calves have been born and whether the calves were strong and survived. But tracking pregnancies that end in spontaneous abortion, an important marker of stress, is more difficult. For this, scientists need scat samples. DNA in the poop identifies the specific whale and exactly what food it has eaten, as well as levels of stress and reproductive hormones.


Over the years, researchers have discovered that when the whales are well fed, they produce large poops with lots of fat, and the level of stress hormones is lower. Conversely, when the whales have found little to eat, they produce skimpy scat, and stress hormone levels are higher.

This indicates that environmental factors such as boat noise and toxic chemicals cause less distress when there is an adequate food supply than they do when the food supply is meager. So, of all the problems the whales face, the marked decline in chinook salmon, their staple diet, is the most significant.

Fifteen years ago, when we cruised the Salish Sea, we often saw upwards of 20 orcas at a time, but in the last two summers, sightings have been rare, and generally, only two, three or four have been travelling together. There simply is not enough food for a pod to stay together, or to spend more than a few days in the inland waters.


Both the northern and southern resident pods range from Haida Gwaii to the south end of Vancouver Island, and some travel as far as Monterey Bay in California. The Fraser River salmon run has always been extremely important to all of them, and its depletion may be the most significant loss, but all rivers emptying into the Salish Sea are important, as are those that flow directly into the Pacific.

Why do we care? Why do people come from all over the world to stand at Lime Kiln Point and hope to see them? There is something about these magnificent creatures that lifts our hearts and soothes our souls. We have an emotional bond with the natural world.

We also have a rational reason for wanting to protect them: we share the same globe, and the same need for a clean, healthy environment.


As an individual, what can I do to help the whales? My husband is an avid fisherman, and on board our boat salmon has always been on the dinner menu at least weekly. I know it’s a proverbial drop in the bucket, and I feel silly talking about it, but we’ve agreed to leave the fish for the orcas this summer. And we hope that some of those we would have caught will make it back to their birthplaces to reproduce.

Instead, I’m working my way through my recipes for chicken salad, the perfect thing to throw together when you turn the engines off. Add a crunchy baguette and vegetable salad and voila! It’s dinner. Or lunch. Or linner. Find four of my favourites below.

I hope you enjoy being out on the Salish Sea this season. I hope you see our resident orcas. And maybe you’ll get a chance to see Eba, the whale poop sniffing dog, in action.


Classic Chicken Salad

All recipes require approximately 1 1/2 pounds chicken breast and make 3-4 servings.

Note: I kept the seasonings on the light side. Taste and add more as desired.


  • 3 cups cubed, cooked chicken
  • 2 celery ribs, diced
  • 2-3 scallions, sliced thinly
  • 2 tablespoons parsley, chopped
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste


  • 1/2 cup mayonnaise
  • 2 teaspoons milk
  • 1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
  • 1/4 teaspoon each salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 2-3 teaspoons grainy mustard

Method for All Variations

  • Combine dressing ingredients and mix everything together.
  • Correct seasonings.
  • Serve at room temperature.

Easy Curried Chicken Salad

Modify Classic Recipe:

Substitute cilantro for parsley and add:

  • 1/2 cup toasted, slivered almonds
  • 1/2 cup golden raisins


  • 1/4 cup plain yogurt and 1/4 cup mayonnaise
  • 1-2 teaspoons milk
  • 2-4 teaspoons curry powder
  • Pinch each salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 1 teaspoon lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon honey

Tarragon Chicken Salad

Modify Classic Recipe:

Substitute tarragon for parsley and add:

  • 3/4 cup toasted. chopped walnuts
  • 1 cup halved red grapes


  • 1/4 cup sour cream and 1/4 cup mayonnaise
  • 2 teaspoons milk
  • 2 teaspoons lemon juice
  • 1/2 teaspoon orange zest
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Chicken Salad with Fruit and Mango Chutney Dressing


  • 3 cups cooked, cubed chicken
  • 3/4 cup toasted walnuts, chopped
  • 1-2 cups diced mango or nectarine
  • 1 /2-1 cup red or green grapes, halved


  • 1/4 cup mayonnaise
  • 1/4 cup plain yogurt
  • 1 teaspoon curry powder or to taste
  • 1/2 teaspoon minced ginger
  • 1 teaspoon orange zest
  • 2 teaspoons chutney, chopped if chunky
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste