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Recently, Mumbai Police has arrested 5 people while smuggling a substance called ambergris about nine kilograms.

What is Ambergris

  • Gray amber or ambergris is a French term, often derived from the vomit of a whale. It is a solid and waxy substance, which is produced in the intestines of ‘sperm whale’. Only 1 percent of sperm whales produce ambergris.
  • Chemically, ambergris contains alkaloids, acids and a specific compound called ambrin, which is similar to cholesterol. This material floats above the surface of the water body and sometimes collects near the shore.
  • It is highly valuable, due to which it is called floating gold. The cost of one kg of ambergris in the international market is Rs 1 crore.


  • It is used in the perfume market especially to produce musk-like fragrance (kastoori).
  • It is in high demand in countries like Dubai because there is a huge market for perfumes.
  • The ancient Egyptians used it as incense. It is also believed to be used in some traditional medicines and as a spice.


  • Due to its high value, it has been a target of smugglers especially in the coastal areas.
  • Be aware that the ‘sperm whale’ is a protected species, so there is a ban on hunting the whale, while smugglers have to kill it to get ambergris from the whale’s stomach.

Sperm Whale

  • The sperm whale, also called the ‘cachalot’, is the largest of all toothed whales, and is easily recognizable by its massive square head and narrow lower jaw. It is dark blue-gray or brown in color, with white spots on its belly.
  • It is stocky, and has small paddle-like flippers. It has a series of rounded humps on its back. They are found in the temperate and tropical waters of the world.

Conservation Status:

  • Sperm whales have been included in the Red List of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) in the ‘threatened’ category.
  • Also it is placed in ‘Appendix I’ of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wildlife and Flora (CITES).
  • In India, it is protected under Schedule-I of the Indian Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972.

Source – PIB

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