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Sailors Arrested for Smuggling Whale Vomit Worth $2 Million

Three have been arrested by Mysuru District Police in Kerala, India for attempting to smuggle over $2 million worth of ambergris, an illegal substance nicknamed “whale vomit” or “whale poop.” The criminals were reportedly carrying over 9.8 kg of the substance, which is made by sperm whales. 

Sperm whale
Credit: Gabriel Barathieu

The trafficking of whale vomit is illegal in most countries, including India, to protect the whales. In the United States, the Endangered Species Act of 1973 made it illegal to sell or possess ambergris. Poachers often kill sperm whales to extract the rare and expensive substance, which has also been nicknamed “floating gold” and “treasure of the sea.”

What Is ‘Whale Vomit’?

Whale vomit or ambergris is a solid, waxy substance with a gray or brownish color and a strong, musky, even fecal smell. For centuries, this rare and mysterious substance has been used to make high-end perfumes—which seems ironic since we just described it as “fecal.” Its potent, distinctive scent apparently adds complexity and depth to a fragrance.

Scientists aren’t sure how ambergris leaves the sperm whale’s body, or even whether it exits through the front end of the animal or the back end. It’s widely speculated that ambergris forms in the intestines of a sperm whale to protect its insides from the sharp beaks of its meals (like the giant squid and other cephalopods). The rock-like substance binds the squids’ beaks and protects sperm whales’ bowels from irritation.

Why Is Ambergris So Expensive?

Whale vomit is extremely rare and found in less than 5% of whale carcasses. Ambergris contains an alcohol called ambrein, which, when extracted, can be used to make a perfume’s scent last longer, thus making it a treasured ingredient for opulent perfumes.


Which Perfumes Use Ambergris?

Although many perfumeries have turned to synthetics to achieve the same effects as ambergris, a few high-end perfumes still use ambergris, according to GQ Magazine, despite it being widely illegal. Examples include Jean Paul Gaultier Le Beau Le Parfum Eau de Parfum, Mizensir Ambre Magique Eau de Parfum, and Roja Parfums Amber Aoud Parfum, ranging from $65-$750.


Would you buy perfume with “whale vomit” in it? Tell us why or why not in the comments below.

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