Smelly Whale Excretions May Be Worth Enduring the Stench

Smelly Whale Excretions May Be Worth Enduring the Stench

Brianna Elliott
Published: 02/01/2013

A sperm whale diving. [Photo: Paul Richards/CC BY-NC 2.0]

The terms “vomit” and “excretion” generally evoke sour faces and thoughts of disgust, but for one British dog-walker, a hunk of secretion from a whale may bring a great fortune.

Ken Wilman, 50, was out with his boxer, Madge, earlier this week on Morecambe Beach in northern England when the canine started sniffing a soccer ball–sized, yellow-and-grey rock-like formation. Wilman picked up the mass, took a whiff, and immediately threw the smelly imposter to the ground. Back at home, a quick internet search revealed that Wilman had stumbled upon ambergris, or sperm whale excretion. He immediately rushed back to the beach to retrieve the dried mass, according to BBC News

Ambergris—commonly referred to as “floating gold”—is quite rare and therefore highly valuable. For example, the UK paper The Telegraph reports that in 2006 an Australian couple received $295,000 U.S. dollars for a 32-pound mound. 

Sperm whales produce ambergris to protect their gut from the sharp beaks they swallow when consuming squid, one of their largest prey sources. These waxy masses are usually secreted through the digestive track, but if they’re too big to pass through the whale’s intestines, get expelled through the mouth. These masses float, often washing ashore. 

Despite the origins of ambergris, its smell becomes milder with age, sun, and salt exposure. Oddly enough, it’s used as a scent-stabilizer in many perfumes. 

Wilman is putting up with this particularly stinky ambergris specimen while he awaits quality testing. The wait may be worth it: A French company already offered Wilman $68,000 for this six-pound piece of excretion, but he expects monetary offers to rise around Europe. The Telegraph states that Wilman’s find could be worth as much as $180,000.

An infatuation with ambergris is nothing new, reports the Agence France-Presse (AFP); author Herman Melville wrote in 1851 in Moby Dick, “Who would think, then, that such fine ladies and gentlemen should regale themselves with an essence found in the inglorious bowels of a sick whale! Yet so it is.”

 

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