Worli fishers surrender 5kg of ‘whale vomit’ worth ₹4 crore to authorities
Mumbai: Fisherfolk operating from Worli’s Lotus Jetty on Sunday surrendered nearly 5kg of ambergris to officials from the forest department and the Wildlife Crime Control Bureau (WCCB)
Mumbai: Fisherfolk operating from Worli’s Lotus Jetty on Sunday surrendered nearly 5kg of ambergris to officials from the forest department and the Wildlife Crime Control Bureau (WCCB).
Ambergris is a solid, waxy substance produced in the gastrointestinal tracts of sperm whales and is prized for its use in luxury cosmetics due to its rich fragrance. However, in India, the commercial sale and use of ambergris is banned under the Wildlife Protection Act (1972). A protected species, sperm whales in India are said to be found mostly in the Arabian Sea off Gujarat, and Bay of Bengal near Odisha.
Sanjay Baikar, a fisherman from Worli, said that he and his colleagues first noticed the substance floating in the intertidal area just off Lotus Jetty on August 9. “I have never seen ambergris before, but there have been so many cases in the last year when the Mumbai police has seized the substance from peddlers, so I knew what it looked like from photos and videos. The stuff was spread across the shore near Lotus Jetty in small amounts. A few of us got together to collect it and when we weighed it on August 13, it was around 5kg. I immediately called the forest department and they took it from us on Sunday afternoon after conducting a punchnama with the locals,” Baikar said.
According to an official with the WCCB, 5kg of the substance could fetch as much as ₹4 crore in the illegal market. The material obtained from Worli fishers on Sunday will be sent to Gujarat for forensic analysis, results of which could take up to two weeks. If found to be genuine, the material will be disposed of at an undisclosed location.
“There is not much demand for the substance locally, but international buyers are willing to pay high prices. Fishermen often report seeing this floating on the surface of the water in deep seas. Occasionally, it also washes up ashore when the currents are favourable. There have been at least five instances in the last year and a half where people have been caught trying to sell the material from Mumbai itself. We have tried probing whether there is any angle of sperm whales being poached, but it seems more likely that the material is being obtained without any active hunting,” said the official.
The official added that seizures of ambergris typically occur between July and August, when the substance washes up on the Konkan coast during the monsoon. In July 2021, nearly 9 kg of ambergris were seized by the Mumbai Police in just 15 days. This year, on July 20, the Mumbai crime branch arrested a man for trying to smuggle around 2.8kg of whale vomit worth ₹2.6 crore.