Sat, Sep 07, 2013 - Page 5 News List

Test provides new weapon against maritime poaching

ADVANCED BIOTECH:The new test is to allow authorities to identify meat from endangered whales and dolphins in 10 minutes, down from about five days

AFP, TAIPEI

Taiwan has started using advanced biotechnology to protect endangered whales and dolphins against poachers, supplementing existing DNA testing, agriculture officials said earlier this week.

A newly developed litmus test financed by the government will show within minutes whether meat samples seized from poachers are whale or dolphin meat, the officials said.

Poachers previously tried to avoid prosecution by cutting the heads off dolphins or whales that they caught.

Three years ago, the council began using DNA tests to identify the meat, but results took five days to arrive.

“Now it takes only 10 minutes to verify any samples,” said Kuan Li-hao (管立豪), director of the Forestry Bureau’s Conservation Division.

The litmus paper is designed to be activated by the unique structure of a protein in whales and dolphins, said Yang Wei-cheng, an associate professor of the National Chiayi University who heads the research team.

More than 30 officials from customs, the coast guard and other government bodies attended a training session in Taipei on Tuesday on the new detection method.

About 100 more officials were to have taken the training course by Thursday, Kuan said.

All species of whales and dolphins have been protected by Taiwan’s conservation law since 1989.

Violators face a prison term of up to five years and a fine of up to NT$1.5 million (US$50,000).

While poaching continues, the number of offenses was declining, the council said.

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