What is ambergris?
- Ambergris is a substance that originates from the digestive system of sperm whales and is often referred to as “floating gold“
- It is a waxy, grayish substance that is produced in the intestines of whales to protect their stomachs from sharp objects like squid beaks, which are part of their diet.
- Over time, layers of this waxy material accumulate and solidify into lumps.
How is it formed?
- The process of ambergris formation involves a complex chemical reaction within the whale’s digestive system.
- Once it has formed, the whale may expel the ambergris through its feces or vomit it out.
- The ambergris then floats on the ocean’s surface and can be found washed up on beaches or collected from the water.
- Ambergris is produced only by an estimated 1% of sperm whales only.
Uses of Ambergris
- Perfumes and Fragrances: One of the most well-known and traditional uses of ambergris is as an ingredient in perfumes and fragrances. Its complex, long-lasting scent can enhance and stabilize other aromatic compounds in perfumes.
- Aromatherapy: Ambergris has been used in aromatherapy for its unique and relaxing scent.
- Traditional Medicine: In some cultures, ambergris has been used in traditional medicine for various purposes, such as treating ailments related to the digestive system or as an aphrodisiac.
- Culinary Uses: In the past, ambergris was occasionally used as a flavoring agent in culinary recipes, particularly in high-end dishes.
Smuggling of Ambergis
- Natural ambergris is relatively rare and due to its high value it is frequently smuggled.
- 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 the whale is not allowed, but smugglers have resorted to unfair means to trap sperm whales.
- Sperm whales are the largest toothed whales and are known for their massive heads and distinctive appearance.
- Sperm whales are found in oceans around the world, from cold polar waters to tropical and subtropical regions.
- Sperm whales are known to live in social groups known as pods. These pods are usually composed of females and their offspring. Adult males often live a more solitary existence or form smaller bachelor groups.
- Sperm whales use echolocation for identifying prey.
- Threats to these species include marine pollution, noise pollution, and climate change.
- Sperm whales are declared vulnerable in IUCN red list
- They are also protected under Appendix I of CITES.
Why in news?
- Mysuru police recently arrested three men for trafficking highly-valued ambergris.