Ambergris, that versatile sperm whale excretion that Herman Melville wrote so prodigiously about when the ocean was just a Dave & Buster's for murdering sperm whales, can be a pretty valuable beachcombing find, way more valuable than a mostly intact conch shell, horseshoe crab, or buffalo nickel. Just ask unemployed English beachcomber Ken Wilman and his boxer Madge, who, while taking a seaside jaunt recently, found a lump of ambergris that could be worth as much as $180,000.
Though a French dealer has already offered Wilman a little less than $68,000 for the snapping-turtle sized lump of ambergris, experts in the field of intestinal secretions of the common cachalot think Wilman could get a whole lot more, pending a more thorough examination. That's because ambergris is not only super-rare, but super-useful in the production of fancy perfume. Obviously, Wilman and Madge are pretty stoked about this.
Not so stoked is the Guardian's Deborah Orr, who takes extreme umbrage with The Mirror's deployment of the phrases "whale vomit" and "whale poop" throughout its coverage of Wilman's find. To not make use to the lyrical word "ambergris" in its headline, The Mirror has made a sordid toilet joke out of the sperm whale's sublime digestive tract, which produces ambergris to keep its belly safe from the snapping beaks and crystal horns of the mythical unicorn squid. Ambergris is totally not gross like vomit or poop, "So," Orr hammered into her word processor, "it's rather a shame that the media prefers to refer to it as ‘whale vomit.'"
Seriously. Ambergris is a beautifully euphemistic word for the stuff that sperm whales either regurgitate or defecate. Let's all have a little more respect for the giant, mottled Corn Pops that make our most redolent fragrances, and exercise a little more discretion when discussing biological functions. Whales don't poop or vomit ambergris, you guys — they amberpiss it. I think the science is pretty clear on that score.