What is Ambergris?
- Ambergris, French for grey amber, is generally referred to as whale vomit. However, Christopher Kemp, the author of ‘Floating gold: A Natural and (unnatural) history of Ambergris’, says this is not right.
- A sperm whale eats several thousand squid beaks a day. He says 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.
- It is a solid waxy substance that floats around the surface of the water body and at times settles on the coast.
Is it 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, it 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, as per Kemp, it is produced only by an estimated one per cent of sperm whales.
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