Wildlife Conservation Efforts

What is Ambergris?


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: Ambergris

Mains level: Not Much

In the past few weeks, there have been two cases where the Mumbai Police has arrested five persons trying to sell Ambergris or whale vomit.

What is Ambergris?

  • Ambergris, French for grey amber, is generally referred to as whale vomit.
  • It is a solid waxy substance that floats around the surface of the water body and at times settles on the coast.
  • A sperm whale eats several thousand squid beaks a day.
  • Occasionally, a beak makes it way to the whale’s stomach and into its looping convoluted intestines where it becomes ambergris through a complex process, and may ultimately be excreted by the whale.

Is it Ambergris valuable?

  • This excretion is so valuable it is referred to as floating gold.
  • As per the latest estimates given by Mumbai Police, 1 kg of ambergris is worth Rs 1 crore in the international market.
  • The reason for its high cost is its use in the perfume market, especially to create fragrances like musk.
  • It is believed to be in high demand in countries like Dubai that have a large perfume market. Ancient Egyptians used it as incense.
  • It is also believed to be used in some traditional medicines.

Why are the laws on Ambergris?

  • Due to its high value, Ambergris has been a target for smugglers especially in coastal areas.
  • There have been several cases where the coastline of Gujarat has been used for such smuggling.
  • Since the sperm whale is a protected species, hunting of the whale is not allowed.
  • However, smugglers are known to have illegally targeted the fish in order to obtain the valuable Ambergris from its stomach.
  • However, Ambergris is produced only by an estimated one per cent of sperm whales.

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