Jan 22, 2008

Random Little Nugget of Knowledge: Ambergris

I'd like to share some of the interesting stuff I came across.

Last year, someone found a huge lump of ambergris in Australia. It was a big deal because this ambergris could possibly net over a million dollars. But then there is an Australian law that ambergris and other cetacean products can't be sold. Anyway, they are debating whether urine, feces and vomit of whales are under this law.

Ambergris is sperm whale vomit. Yup. You read it right. Apparently, sperm whales are colicky and when their stomachs or intestines are irritated by the beaks of the squid they eat, they throw up. Who wouldn't? Okay, so no one ever saw a sperm whale throw up. Ambergris comes from its stomach or intestine and we don't know which orifice it comes out of.

So this whale 'vomit' floats around in the ocean until the sea water, air and the sun all conspire to turn this into grayish, waxy chunks which float around the ocean. Imagine how this stinky, yucky mess turns into something that smells musky and sweet. Eventually, these chunks get washed up into shore and some lucky beachcomber finds it. Ambergris is about $20 per gram! That's definitely more expensive than rice!

To see if that waxy lump you found on the beach is ambergris, heat a needle and stick it in the thing. Ambergris melts instantly and will form an oily black residue. It will give off a little musty smoke. It can look like any old piece of rock, so it is worth doing the actual test. If you're still in doubt, look up ambergris authorities on the internet and contact them.

Happy beachcombing!

Photo from: www.fahad.com

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