Congrats to the Lancashire couple who found a roughly 3.5 pound chunk of whale... something... while recently strolling the beach. The waxy, smelly lump is actually called ambergris, it’s used in making perfume, and it’s extremely valuable.
The Mirror (via Fark) reports that Gary and Angela Williams spotted the stinking mass and, recognizing ambergris from a newspaper article, took it home. Atlas Obscura explains that while it’s generally assumed to be whale puke, it’s more like the cetacean intestinal equivalent of a pearl. But grosser:
According to Christopher Kemp, author of Floating Gold: A Natural (and Unnatural) History of Ambergris, ambergris is formed when the indigestible remnants of the sperm whale’s favorite meal—squid—meets up with a malfunctioning, leaky sphincter between the last of the whale’s four stomachs and its intestine....
This process is thought to occur in about one percent of the world’s 350,000 sperm whales, who roam in every part of the ocean except the very coldest. It has led to the very common misassumption that ambergris is “whale vomit.”
“Ambergris is, in fact, most likely passed by the living whale, or the last byproduct of the dead whale, floating up from its eaten carcass,” Atlas Obscura explains, then it floats around for ages until it becomes a lump of something that’s a wonderful, much vaunted component of perfume. Hence, the Williamses could make a nice chunk of change on the find. The Guardian recaps recent sales:
The couple are in negotiations with potential buyers in France and New Zealand. Another 2.7kg lump was found on the shore in Morecambe in 2013 and was valued at up to £120,000. A 1.1kg piece of the substance, found on a beach in Anglesey, Wales, was bought for £11,000 at an auction in Cheshire last September.
Mr. Williams explained it was “a bit of a shock.”
“It was down a section of the beach where no-one really walks,” he said.
“It smells too bad though. It’s a very distinctive smell, like a cross between squid and farmyard manure.
“It feels like a rock hard rubber ball. Its texture is like wax, like a candle.
“When you touch it you get wax sticking to your fingers.”
If it does turn out to be worth a pretty penny, the pair home to put the money toward “a static caravan. It would be a dream come true.”