Wildlife Conservation Efforts

What is Ambergris?


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: Ambergris

Mains level: NA


Central Idea

  • The discovery of a sperm whale carcass on the shore of the Canary Island of La Palma has led to an extraordinary find.
  • During the post-mortem examination, a pathologist found ambergris, a highly valuable substance often referred to as “floating gold,” stuck in the whale’s colon.
  • The estimated worth of the retrieved lump of ambergris is around €500,000 (Rs 4,47,62,500).

What is Ambergris?

  • Origin: Ambergris is a waxy substance formed in the digestive system of protected sperm whales.
  • Formation: One theory suggests that ambergris is produced in the gastrointestinal tract of sperm whales to aid the passage of hard objects ingested during feeding.
  • Appearance and Odour: Freshly passed ambergris is light yellowish and fatty, but it ages and turns waxy, taking on red-brownish colors. It possesses a mild, earthy, sweet smell with hints of marine odor.

Uses and Rarity of Ambergris

  • Perfume Industry: Traditionally, ambergris is used in the production of perfumes, adding a musky note.
  • Historical Uses: In the past, ambergris was utilized to flavor food, alcoholic beverages, and tobacco in certain cultures.
  • Rarity and Value: Ambergris is a scarce substance, contributing to its high demand and significant price in the international market.

Legal Restrictions in India

  • Wildlife Protection Act: Sperm whales, the source of ambergris, are a protected species under Schedule 2 of the Wildlife Protection Act in India.
  • Illegal Possession and Trade: The possession and trade of ambergris and its by-products, including in India, are prohibited under the Wildlife Protection Act of 1972.
  • Smuggling and Trade Routes: Smuggling networks involved in ambergris trade often procure the substance from coastal areas in India and transport it through countries with comparatively less stringent sea trade regulations.

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