Whale redefines treasure

Published: Wednesday, May 1, 2013 at 01:52 PM.

The "rock" turned out to be a pound chunk of ambergris worth north of $60,000! I remembered reading about ambergris many decades ago in a mystery book. I couldn’t remember the book or author and neither could Google.

I suppose a search of "ambergris mentioned in a book" is a bit broad. I came up with a lot of informational hits but no literature other than a 1910 book of poetry.

This stuff is worth a lot of money to the fragrance industry. High-end perfume makers such as Chanel and Lanvin use it to fix their scents to human skin.

I can’t imagine how that attribute was discovered. Somebody in the distant past would’ve had to decide to add a pinch of whale vomit to a perfume batch to see what it did.

Yep, that’s what this extremely valuable stuff is: whale vomit or more specifically, sperm whale vomit. But in the interest of scientific research, recent studies suggest that for centuries we humans may have been concentrating on the wrong end of the whale.

Whichever end receives credit for depositing the "treasure" isn’t a big deal, and I’m sure Moby Dick couldn’t care less how he got rid of it. Ambergris is intestinal slurry ejected by sperm whales into the ocean which eventually hardens as it bobs along.

Because of the sperm whale’s endangered status, use of ambergris in U.S. perfumes is prohibited. The French perfume industry has no such restrictions; hence the huge demand that drives the price.

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