Who'd have thought fish vomit could be so valuable?
Ambergris is a pathological secretion sometimes found in the stomach of the sperm whale, in lumps of up to 50 kilograms in weight.
It is occasionally seen floating on the sea, or washed up on beaches, having presumably been vomited by the whale. It is a wax-like, grayish material, with a characteristic odor which is not, however, disagreeable.
Its secretion is believed to be stimulated by cuttlefish beaks in the whale's alimentary canal, since such beaks are often found embedded in ambergris. Chemically it consists of higher alcohols, together with some fatty acids. It melts at about 60 degrees celsius and at 100 degrees volatilizes to a white vapor. Ambergris is soluble in hot alcohol, and when purified is used in perfumery as a fixative.
Ambergris find is just spit in ocean
Rare pieces of ambergris - whale spit - found on a beach would be worth $150,000 ... if it could be sold in Australia.
Stephen Atkinson believes he has found pieces of ambergris - a by-product from sperm whales, used to make perfume - but is at a loss as to what to do with it.
Mr Atkinson, of Portland, made the find while walking his dog on a local beach.
He dismissed it at first but returned and, on closer inspection, determined it was ambergris.
"It had just washed up on to the shore," Mr Atkinson said.
"I've heard about it before but never really seen it."
Ambergris, also know as whale spit, is produced in sperm whales' digestive systems and is highly sought after by the high-end perfume industry.
It can fetch as much as $20 a gram on the international market, but its sale is prohibited under Australian law.
Mr Atkinson said he had consulted a solicitor about what to do with his 7.5kg find.
"We're not going to sell it - we don't want to do anything illegal," he said.
"We don't know what to do. It's all a bit crazy."
Dolphin Research Institute researcher David Donnelly said there was not much Mr Atkinson could do with the ambergris.
"He cannot sell it or make any money from it," Mr Donnelly said.
"Probably the only thing he could do with it is donate it to the museum.
"If you lived somewhere that didn't have the laws or regulations on whales that we do, you could probably sell it and make some good money."
Ambergris at a Glance
Ambergris (Ambra grisea, Ambre gris, ambergrease, or grey amber) is a solid, waxy, flammable substance of a dull gray or blackish color produced in the digestive system of sperm whales. Ambergris has a peculiar sweet, earthy odor (similar to isopropyl alcohol); though it has now been largely displaced by synthetics, the principal historical use of ambergris was as a fixative in perfumery.
Ambergris occurs as a biliary secretion of the intestines of the sperm whale, and can be found floating upon the sea, or in the sand near the coast. Because giant squids' beaks have been found embedded within lumps of ambergris, scientists have theorized that the whale's intestine produces the substance as a means of facilitating the passage of hard, sharp objects that the whale might have inadvertently eaten. Ambergris can be found in the Atlantic Ocean; on the coasts of Brazil and Madagascar; and on the coast of Africa, of the East Indies, The Maldives, mainland China, Japan, India, Australia, New Zealand and the Molucca islands. However, most commercially collected ambergris comes from the Bahama Islands, Providence Island, etc. It is also sometimes found in the abdomens of whales. Additionally, Herman Melville makes mention of ambergris in Moby-Dick. He discusses at length how ambergris was commonly found in dead whales floating in the South Pacific.
Got any Ambergris to sell?
These guys will buy it off you...