From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :
Prelims level : Ambergris
Mains level : Not Much
The Crime Branch in Pune and seized 550 grams of ambergris, also known as ‘floating gold’.
What is Ambergris?
- Ambergris, which means gray amber in French, is a waxy substance that originates from the digestive system of the protected sperm whales.
- It is incorrectly referred to as ‘whale vomit’.
- It is produced in the gastrointestinal tract of some of the sperm whales for the passage of hard, sharp objects that are ingested when the whale eats large quantities of marine animals.
Why is it so expensive?
- Investigating agencies from across India who have seized ambergris in the recent past estimate its value to be somewhere between Rs 1 to 2 crores per kilogram, depending on the purity and quality.
- Being extremely rare contributes to its high demand and high price in the international market.
- Traditionally, ambergris is used to produce perfumes that have notes of musk.
- While there are records of it being used to flavor food, alcoholic beverages and tobacco in some cultures in the past, it is rarely used for these purposes presently.
Legalities and recent cases of seizure in India
- While there is a ban on possession and trade of ambergris in countries like the USA, Australia and India, in several other countries it is a tradable commodity.
- In the Indian context, the sperm whales are a protected species under Schedule 2 of the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972 and possession or trade of any of its by-products, including Ambergris is illegal.
- It has been observed that the gangs smuggling the ambergris procure it from coastal areas and ship it to destination countries via some other countries with whom India has comparatively less stringent sea trade.