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Dead sperm whale in The Wash, East Anglia, England. © CSIP-ZSL.

What have dead whales ever done for us?

When dead whales wash up on dry land they provide a vital food source for...
Risso's dolphin © Andy Knight

We’re getting to know Risso’s dolphins in Scotland so we can protect them

Citizen scientists in Scotland are helping us better understand Risso's dolphins by sending us their...
Pilot whales pooing © Christopher Swann

Talking crap and carcasses to protect our planet

We know we need to save the whale to save the world because they are...
Fin whales are targeted by Icelandic whalers

Speaking truth to power – my week giving whales a voice

The International Whaling Commission (IWC) meeting is where governments come together to make decisions about whaling...

Why do whales and dolphins strand on beaches?

People often ask me 'why' whales and dolphins do one thing or another.  I'm a...
A spinner dolphin leaping © Andrew Sutton/Eco2

Head in a spin – my incredible spinner dolphin encounter

Sri Lanka is home to at least 30 species of whales and dolphins, from the...
Sperm whale (physeter macrocephalus) Gulf of California. The tail of a sperm whale.

To protect whales, we must stop ignoring the high seas

Almost two-thirds of the ocean, or 95% of the habitable space on Earth, are sloshing...
WDC team at UN Ocean conference

Give the ocean a chance – our message from the UN Ocean Conference

I'm looking out over the River Tejo in Lisbon, Portugal, reflecting on the astounding resilience...

New 'litmus paper test' for dolphin meat sparks arrests in Taiwan

Last Thursday, Taiwanese coastguards announced the arrest of a couple at their home in the southern county of Yunlin and the seizure of 820 kilograms (1,800 pounds) of dolphin meat which they described as their biggest haul so far this year. The accused claim to have acquired the meat from a supplier in the north and admitted to having already sold 120 kilograms (265 pounds)  to restaurants.  Arrested under Taiwan’s wildlife protection laws, they face up to 5 years imprisonment and a fine of up to 1.5 million Taiwan dollars (US$50,000) if convicted.

This case is  particularly significant as, only a few weeks ago, Taiwan announced the introduction of a new on-the-spot litmus paper test for suspicious meat.  Officials trained in using this new biotechnology were able to determine that the seized meat was indeed dolphin. Whales and dolphins have been legally protected in Taiwanese waters since 1989, but poachers have often attempted to avoid prosecution by mislabeling meat or cutting the heads off hunted dolphins or whales to prevent species identification.

The Taiwanese government financed the development of this new test which is designed to be activated by the unique structure of a protein in whales and dolphins – and delivers a result in as little as 10 minutes. The test will supplement existing DNA analysis which is more rigorous but can take up to five days to return results.

At the moment, the ‘trade off’ for obtaining such rapid results means that it is only possible to determine whether the meat comes from a whale or dolphin (rather than another species yielding similar-looking  red meat) and there will still be a requirement in some cases for formal DNA analysis in order to learn which  whale or dolphin species or population was involved.

However, WDC welcomes this new technology as an important step forward in efforts to stamp out illegal trade in whale and dolphin meat. By enabling officials to rapidly identify the presence of whale or dolphin products, they can make arrests, confiscate suspicious consignments and close off sales outlets without losing valuable time.