New Litmus-Paper Test Identifies Poached Marine Mammal Meat In Mere Minutes

Whale meat again? Don't know where, don't know when... until now! Thanks to a new litmus-paper test developed in Taiwan, the question of whether the catch of the day had fins or flippers can be resolved conclusively in just 10 minutes.

Catching dolphins and whales has been illegal in Taiwan since 1989 but since then poachers have flouted the ban in order to profit from sales of mislabeled meat. In addition, fishermen working out of ports on on Taiwan's east coast have traditionally caught marine mammals to supply local food needs. “It was common, especially in some poorer regions,” explained Kuan Li-Hao, head of the Taiwanese Forestry Bureau conservation section. “Some called it sea pork.”

Busting the poachers and their customers red-handed, so to speak, has been hindered by a lengthy DNA testing procedure that can take up to 5 days. By that time, the serving establishment will likely have prepared and sold any meat that didn't match the name on the menu.

For the past two years, the government of Taiwan has been funding research conducted by Taiwan National Chiayi University professor Yang Wei-Cheng into efforts towards speeding up both the testing procedure and future proceedings against suspected marine mammal meat traffickers.

The new litmus test developed by professor Yang Kuan is not only ready for real-world use, but police and other officials have completed a one-week training course in how to conduct the test. 

Results are both easy to interpret and quick to be revealed: conclusive identification within 10 minutes after a strip of the testing paper is put in contact with a meat sample. If two stripes appear on the litmus paper then the sample must be dolphin or whale meat; a single stripe indicates the meat comes from a land-based creature. “It is very easy to use,” explained professor Yang, “just like a pregnancy test.” (via Eva Dou/WSJ China RealTime Report, image by Darren Melrose Photography)