How One U.K. Couple Discovered A ‘Whale Vomit’ Rock Worth $70,000

A couple in the U.K. stumbled upon a nugget of smelly whale vomit last Sunday – meaning that could soon make as much as $70,000. The substance, more euphemistically known as ambergris, is a high-priced commodity among perfume makers. But don’t try searching for it in the U.S., where possession has been illegal since 1972.

According to MSN, Gary and Angela Williams found the “whale vomit,” which was roughly the size and shape of an ostrich egg, while walking along Middleton Sands beach near Morecambe Bay in the U.K.

Gary Williams gave a thorough description of the ambergris find to reporters.

“It was down a section of the beach where no-one really walks. It smells too bad though. It’s a very distinctive smell, like a cross between squid and farmyard manure. It feels like a rock hard rubber ball. Its texture is like wax, like a candle. When you touch it you get wax sticking to your fingers.”

The substance is created by Sperm whales. The large animals diet consists of a lot of squid, but their stomachs cannot process a squid’s beaks. As a result, they have to coat them with something to prevent injury and then expel the indigestible materials from their bodies.

Ambergris expert and author of the book Floating Gold: A Natural (and Unnatural) History of Ambergris Christopher Kemp told CNN that the term whale vomit is inaccurate.

“It’s more like poop, and it comes from the same place as poop, but it’s only made by a small percentage of sperm whales, as a result of indigestion.”

Whether it’s whale vomit or whale poop, it’s still worth a lot of money, luckily for the U.K. couple. National Geographic reports that fragrance makers like Chanel and Lanvin value the substance for its ability to attach smells to the human skin for long periods. The substance itself is known for smelling like nothing else.

Kemp described the smell as “a mixture of dung and the ocean, and old wood, and tobacco, and moist earth, and ozone.”

Gary Williams hopes that nugget will be enough to fetch him a mobile home (known as a static caravan in the U.K.). He says if that’s possible it “would be a dream come true.”

Looking for ambergris isn't harmful to Sperm whales in and of itself, but some governments fear that demand for the substance will lead to the species' exploitation. [Image via Gabriel Barathieu/Wikimedia Commons]
Looking for ambergris isn’t harmful to Sperm whales, but some governments fear that demand for the substance will lead to the species’ exploitation. [Image via Gabriel Barathieu/Wikimedia Commons]
But ambergris hunters beware, it’s not easy to recreate the U.K. couple’s good fortune – or legal, at least in the U.S.

The “whale vomit” can come in many different colors, sizes, and shapes. Sometimes its black, other times white, grey or brown. It might be oval shaped like in the Williams’ case, but it could also be flat or squarish.

Even the waxiness described by Gary Williams isn’t the same for all ambergris.

The strong smell is often the indicator. The frequently cited test for the whale poop is to hold a very hot needle to the item’s surface. If it’s the genuine item, then it should start to melt instantly, turning into oil, while also sending up smelly smoke.

Sperm whales have been hunted to the point of being endangerment a few times in the past, and the potential for them to be exploited for their valuable ambergris is always a threat. As a result, the U.S. instituted a ban on possession of “whale vomit” in 1972.

Finding a large nugget of whale vomit on a beach in the U.K. is still fair game, but an incredibly rare and lucky discovery.

[Photo by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images]

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