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As ambergris seizures rise, so do fears of whale poaching
Mumbai: Growing instances of the seizure of ambergris or whale vomit in Mumbai and neighbouring areas over the last 18 months have raised the spectre of poaching of sperm whales in the deep sea for the valuable substance, which is in high demand. Ambergris, a solid waxy substance created by the bile duct of the sperm whale, is often called “floating gold” due to the immense price it fetches in the international markets for its use in luxury perfumes.
“The rise in the instances of the seizure of ambergris has triggered fear that either sperm whales are being poached or there can be adulteration in the substance, as it is highly valued,” a forensic official said. Last week, the Mumbai crime branch seized ambergris worth Rs2.6 crore and arrested one Vaibhav Kalekar, who is suspected to have procured the ambergris from Dapoli where a few whales were found dead some months ago, a police official said. The sale of ambergris is prohibited in India as the endangered sperm whale is protected under the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972. Many times, fishermen find ambergris floating in the deep sea, and attempt to sell it with the help of brokers and middlemen, the official said, adding that Kalekar had tried to sell the substance three times in Mumbai. In all cases of ambergris seizure, police personnel are accompanied by Forest officers, who conduct tests to check if the seized substance is real ambergris or a synthetic substitute. “If the substance emits white fumes and odour when a red hot needle is placed it, it is considered ambergris and sent to a forensic laboratory for authentication,” he said.