What is ‘whale vomit’ or Ambergris and, why is it so valuable?

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Mumbai police have captured five people and seized almost 9 kg of whale vomit or Ambergris. Here’s everything about Ambergris and the reason why it is very costly.

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What is ‘whale vomit’?

Ambergris is commonly known as whale vomit. The word is French and translates to grey amber. It is a solid wax-like substance that is secreted by sperm whale’s intestines. However, it is excreted and can be found floating in the sea. Franz Schwediawer, a German physician also called it ‘pre-naturally hardened whale dung’ in 1783.

Why is it so expensive?

On several occasions, it is also referred to as ‘floating gold’ due to its value. According to the latest estimates, one kg of whale vomit is worth close to $1,35,000 in the international market. The high price tag is due to its high demand in the perfume industry.

Ambergris is used to create fragrances, especially musk. Hence, dealers in Dubai and France offer great prices for it. Ancient Egyptians used it in incense. It is also used in certain traditional medicines.

Is it illegal to have Ambergris?

Ambergris is produced by sperm whales, a protected species. Since smugglers target sperm whales to illegally procure and smuggle whale vomit from its stomach, it is illegal. Additionally, according to Christopher Kemp, the author of Floating Gold: A Natural and (unnatural) history of Ambergris, only one percent of sperm whales produce it.

More on the Mumbai arrests

In the past 15 days, Mumbai police made two separate arrests. In the first arrest, 2.2 kg of Ambergris was obtained from three men. However, they found 7.7 kgs of floating gold in the second arrest. Police think that the perpetrators seized it from Gujarat and were in search of buyers. The police are on the lookout for possible buyers.

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