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Ambergris in Dead Sperm Whale

  • Context (IE | TG): Crores of worth ambergris is found in the carcass of a sperm whale which washed up on a shore of the Canary Island of La Palma.

Canary Islands in the group of islands

  • Ambergris (or ‘floating gold’), which means grey amber in French, is a waxy substance that originates from the digestive system of protected sperm whales.
  • It is wrongly referred to as whale vomit.
  • Sperm whales eat large quantities of squid and cuttlefish, most of which cannot be digested and vomited out. But some remain and, over the years, bind together in the intestine to form ambergris.
  • Sometimes, ambergris is excreted and is found floating in the sea. But sometimes, it grows too large, rupturing the intestine and killing the whale.
  • Freshly passed ambergris is light yellowish and fatty. But as it ages, it turns waxy, becomes red-brownish, and attains a mild, earthy, and sweet smell.

Why is Ambergris so Expensive?

  • Ambergris has a woody scent like sandalwood, and it also contains ambrein, an odourless alcohol that can fix and extend the life of scents. Hence it has high demand among perfumers.

Legalities in India for Ambergris

  • There is a ban on the possession and trade of ambergris in the USA, Australia, and India.
  • Sperm whales are protected under Schedule II of the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972. Possession or trade of any of its by-products, including Ambergris and its byproducts, is illegal.

Sperm Whales (Physeter macrocephalus)

  • Sperm whales (also called cachalot) are the largest of the toothed whales.
  • They are named after spermaceti, a waxy substance found in their heads.
  • The spermaceti is an oil sac that helps the whales focus on sound.
  • Distribution: They have one of the broadest global distributions and are found in all marine regions.
  • Habitat: deep marine waters (>1000 m depth).
  • Threats: Fishing and marine pollution.
  • Conservation Status:

Sperm Whales

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