Ambergris, the floating gold

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Ambergris, the floating gold

  • The Crime Branch of the Pimpri Chinchwad police has arrested two persons in Pune and seized 550 grams of ambergris, also known as ‘floating gold’.
  • The action comes after six persons were arrested in August by the state forest department in Pune for smuggling three kilograms of the substance.

About Ambergris

  • Ambergris, which means gray amber in French, is a waxy substance that originates from the digestive system of the protected sperm whales.
  • While it is incorrectly referred to as ‘whale vomit,’ one of the theories about its formation suggests that 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.
  • The ambergris is said to be passed like feces and has a very strong fecal odour combined with a strong marine odour.
  • The freshly passed ambergris is a light yellowish substance and is fatty but as it ages it turns waxy and gets red brownish.

Uses of ambergris

  • 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.
  • Officials say that being extremely rare contributes to its high demand and high price in the international market.
  • Traditionally, ambergris is used to produce perfumes which 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.
  • Trade and sale of Ambergris is banned in nearly 40 countries.

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, though with limitations in some of them.
  • In the Indian context, the 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.
  • 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.