What is Ambergris

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    • The Crime Branch in Pune and seized 550 grams of ambergris, also known as ‘floating gold’

    What is Ambergris?

    • Ambergris means grey amber in French.  
    • It is sometimes 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.
      • According to him, Ambergris, a solid waxy substance originating in the intestine of the sperm whale (Physeter catodon). 
      • As per Kemp, Ambergris is produced only by an estimated one per cent of sperm whales.
    • It floats around the surface of the water body and at times settles on the coast.
    • German physician Franz Schwediawer in 1783 called it “preternaturally hardened whale dung”.
    • This excretion is so valuable it is referred to as floating gold
      • Investigating agencies from across India estimate its value to be somewhere between Rs 1 to 2 crores per kilogram, depending on the purity and quality.

    • Why is it so expensive? 
      • The reason for its high cost is its use in the perfume market, especially to create fragrances like musk.
        • It being extremely rare contributes to its high demand and high price in the international market.
      • Ancient Egyptians used it as incense. It is also believed to be used in some traditional medicines.
    • Legalities and recent cases of seizure in India: 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, though with limitations in some of them. 
      • In the Indian context, sperm whales are a protected species under Schedule 2 of the Wildlife Protection Act and possession or trade of any of its by-products, including Ambergris and its byproducts, is illegal under provisions of the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972.
    Sperm whales (Physeter catodon)

    • They are the largest of the toothed whales, with males up to 19 meters (62 feet) long—more than five times the length of a large elephant—and females up to 12 meters (39 feet) in length. 
    • They are easily recognized by their enormous square head and narrow lower jaw.
    • IUCN Red List: Vulnerable

                                   Image Courtesy: IWC

    Source: IE