A British couple just had their ship come in, so to speak, thanks to a whale of a find on a beach. They found a foul smelling blob on the shoreline and decided to take it home. You will not believe how much it is worth.
As it turns out, what the Williams’ discovered was a fairly large piece of a substance known as ambergris. This material is actually formed inside the intestines of a select few sperm whales. As it ages, the scent will change. This material is highly sought after by perfume makers and is a key ingredient of some of the world’s most exclusive fragrances.
Because of its rarity and desirability, ambergris commands extremely high prices. In fact, the specimen found by Gary and Angela Williams may be worth as much as eighty thousand dollars, making it more expensive than gold, plutonium, and cocaine.
Fortunately the Williams found the ambergris in England, where it is legal to possess or sell. Here in the United States, the private sale or possession of ambergris is prohibited under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act.
The substance can be found floating in the seas or washed up on land, and is an excretion of the bile duct of only about one percent of sperm whales. It can sometimes build up for years before being ejected, resulting in mammoth chunks of odiferous flotsam.
Ambergris has long been prized by the aristocratic class. It was used raw as a fragrance by the one percent up into the early 20th century, and King Charles II of England’s favorite meal was eggs with ambergris.
So yes, it is edible. But we refer you to the description of it as smelling like “manure and vomit.”
It was just one of a number of highly prized compounds taken from whales during the industrial whaling era of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, and as many as five thousand animals were killed every year to feed the vanity of the wealthy. A global moratorium on whaling in the early 1980’s has helped populations of these magnificent beasts begin the slow process of recovering.
Herman Melville even dedicated an entire chapter of his classic novel “Moby Dick” to the precious commodity, which you would have known if you had ever bothered to read the eighty thousand page discourse on obsessive compulsive disorder and marine mammals.
Don’t worry, we didn’t read it either.
Ambergris has been used by humans since the time of ancient Egypt, where it was burned as an incense. Egyptians still use ambergris today to flavor cigarettes. Today the perfume industry has developed a synthetic replacement for ambergris called ambroxan, which explains why we little people can still afford perfume sometimes.