Tags: whale | vomit | ambergris | beach

$68,000 Whale Vomit: British Man Hits Jackpot Finding Ambergris on Beach

Thursday, 31 Jan 2013 04:20 PM

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A man found a rare hunk of "whale vomit" with the help of his canine companion, and it could net him nearly $68,000.

Ken Wilman was walking his dog Madge along a beach west-central England, in a town called Morecambe, when his pet came across what appeared to be a large, foreign stone and started poking at it. Wilman initially found the yellow-brown lump revolting and carried along with his dog, the BBC reported.

"When I picked it up and smelled it I put it back down again and I thought 'urgh, terrible,'" Wilman said.

But something unsettling about the moment made him return to the spot and retrieve the stone.

"For some unknown reason, I went onto my laptop and put 'whale vomit' into the laptop, in Google. And of course, it becomes ambergris. And it sort of snowballed from there," Wilman said.

The strange object turned out to be ambergris, an expellant from the digestive systems of sperm whales. Ambergris is intestinal mush that often contains remnants of whales' diets, particularly irritable bits of prey. The hard beaks of squid are often found in the hardened secretion, much like the one Wilman found.

"It has a musky smell, but the more you smell it the nicer the smell becomes," he added.

Ambergris is often called whale vomit, but it's more accurate to liken it to a kidney stone or a gall stone. Used in the base for perfumes, it is a costly ingredient perfume retailers pay thousands of dollars for.

Andrew Kitchener, a principal curator of vertebrates at the National Museum of Scotland, told the BBC that the special properties of ambergris cannot be replicated.

"It's a very important base for perfumes and it's hard to find any artificial substitute for it," he said. "Over time it becomes a much sweeter smell as it oxidizes, but initially it doesn't smell very nice."

A boy in Dorset, England found a lump on a beach last August valued at $60,000, according to National Geographic.

Ambergris is illegal in the United States because sperm whales are endangered.

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