Gang smuggling whale vomit worth £1m arrested in India

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Police in India’s northern state of Uttar Pradesh have arrested four members of a gang for allegedly smuggling ambergris, commonly known as whale vomit, worth over £1m.

In a raid conducted in Lucknow city on Tuesday, the police found 4.12kg of whale vomit, which is sought after for its usage in perfumes.

The sale of ambergris is forbidden under India’s Wildlife (Protection) Act of 1972.

In a statement on Twitter, Uttar Pradesh police’s special task force said four members of a gang “involved in smuggling of Ambergris were arrested from Gomtinagar Extension Area police station in Lucknow.”

Their arrest comes just months after a group of fishermen in the southern state of Kerala found whale vomit worth Rs 28 crore (£3m) and turned it over to local authorities in July.

Produced in the digestive system of sperm whales, ambergris is a waxy, solid substance that is used in cosmetics and medications, reported NDTV.

Last year, police in Mumbai city estimated the worth of 1kg of ambergris, also referred to as “floating gold”, to be nearly £108,000.

The use of ambergris can be traced across the globe, with the Egyptians burning it as incense, and the Chinese terming it “dragon’s spittle scent.”

For centuries it has been used in incense, medicines and in perfumes, where it stabilises and enhances other fragrances.

According to a paper by Robert Clarke, a late English marine biologist, whales usually throw up what they can’t digest, including squid beaks.

The paper adds that in about one in 100 animals, the undigested material gets stuck in the rectum, grows, incorporates other waste and bacteria, hardens, bursts the rectum, kills the whale and floats away.

In India, sperm whales are said to be found mostly in the Arabian Sea off Gujarat, and the Bay of Bengal off Odisha, according to a report in Outlook.