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In Loving Memory of Terry Wallach Group

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Ambergris !!BETTER!!

Walking along the beach in Dorset with his dad, the boy found what looked to be a very odd rock. He and his dad used Google to help identify it as ambergris. Weighing more than a pound, it is said to be worth up to U.S. $63,000.


Though it is illegal to use ambergris in perfumes in the U.S. because of the sperm whale's endangered status, foreign markets, especially French, remain strong. (Learn secrets of whale evolution in National Geographic magazine.)

Scientists still don't know for sure the exact origins of ambergris. They do know that when sperm whales have a stomach or throat irritant, often a squid beak, they cover it in a greasy substance and cast it out.

Johnna Rizzo is a Departments editor for National Geographic magazine and the author of the nonfiction children's book Oceans. More of her writing on ambergris will appear in the magazine's October issue.

A 200-year-old fragrance originally made for Marie Antoinette was reproduced in limited quantities a few years back, for a staggering $11,000 a bottle. The main ingredient was ambergris, a rare rocklike substance that exudes a special scent all its own. The best ambergris goes for $10,000 per pound, and one lucky 8-year-old in England has very likely stumbled upon a large piece on his local beach.

Naysmith said they took it home to Google what it was. Although only a local marine biologist in southern England has examined it so far, the strange-looking rock that Charlie picked up will likely fetch $65,000. And that's not the best bit - ambergris, far from a French-sounding semi-precious rock, is actually whale feces.

"Headlines like 'Moby Sick Makes Boy Rich' reveal the popular misconception of ambergris as whale vomit. It's poop," Christopher Kemp, a molecular biologist told ABC News. Kemp is the author of the book "Floating Gold: the Natural (and Unnatural) History of Ambergris." He dubbed the process of creating a chunk of ambergris, like the one Naysmith found, as "one unlikelihood piled on top of another," saying that "only one percent of the 350,00 sperm whales can actually make it. Then once they excrete it, it has to float around the ocean for decades to be of any value."

According to scientists, when sperm whales dine on squid, they protect themselves by secreting a fatty substance in their intestines to surround the squid's beaks. Eventually whales excrete these large lumps of ambergris, up to hundreds of pounds at a time.

"One drop of ambergris can change a perfume," Claire Payne, an aroma therapist and perfumer told ABC News. "It's what we call an animalic smell, different to the citrusy or fruity scents. It's like musk, and we use it in several of our fragrances," she added.

Ambergris has a scent all its own-derived from its chemical component ambrein-that it imparts to popular perfumes such as Chanel No. 5. It's often described as an odd, a fragrant in fact, mixture of tobacco, rotting wood and even furniture polish, in high demand by perfume makers because it prolongs a perfume's scent. Roja Dove, the so-called King of Fragrance and one of the most knowledgeable people in the world when it comes to perfume, uses ambergris in a signature scent called Scandal Pour Homme that sells in luxury stores for $280 per 100ml bottle. Adrienne Beuse, the owner of one of the only international trader of raw ambergris in New Zeland, told Bloomberg Businesweek that it's one of the few recession-proof commodities: "If I have the supply, I'll always be able to sell it," she said.

Ambergris is a rare substance produced in the intestines of sperm whales. It appears to result from an irritation caused by the beaks of the cephalopods on which they feed. The link between ambergris and whales, if not the mechanism by which ambergris is produced, has been addressed throughout history but, due to contradictory reports and fanciful explanations regarding its origin, only recently has it been widely accepted. Since ancient times ambergris has been used for medicinal purposes and in perfumes, but its supposed exotic properties are an important reason for the European demand for this substance. Accounts about ambergris from places where Europeans sailed since the 15th century are numerous. In the 16th and 17th centuries there were no laws dictating who owned the ambergris found on beaches and many pieces were sold or traded, legally or illegally, from overseas to Europe. However, this product was always obtained in relatively small quantities. More recently, with the advent of industrial whaling dedicated to sperm whaling conducted by several nations in various parts of the world during the 19th and 20th centuries, ambergris acquired an importance of its own and was sold at very high prices. In the Azores, ambergris from hunted sperm whales was documented; the same applies for Madeira and the Portuguese mainland. Being a product typically reported in whaling data and related to the economic exploitation of the sea, it is through the historical sources that its importance is clearly demonstrated.

That upset stomach creates ambergris, a rare substance that has been highly valued for thousands of years as an ingredient in perfume and pharmaceuticals. Ambergris originates in the intestines of male sperm whales after they dine on squid, whose hard, pointy beaks abrade the whales' innards. Scientists believe that the whales protect themselves by secreting a fatty substance in their intestines to surround the beaks. Eventually the animals cast out a huge lump, up to hundreds of pounds at a time.

But don't refer to it as "whale vomit"; scientists postulate that whales do not expel ambergris through their mouths. No one has ever seen a sperm whale excrete ambergris, although sperm whale expert Hal Whitehead of Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia, admits that it is assumed the voiding takes place as fecal excretion, because when first cast out, he says, "Well, it smells more like the back end than the front."

For thousands of years this sea treasure has been highly prized. Middle Easterners historically powdered and ingested it to increase strength and virility, combat heart and brain ailments, or to spice food and drink. The Chinese called it "dragon's spittle fragrance." Ancient Egyptians burned it as incense. A British medical treatise from the Middle Ages informs readers that ambergris can banish headaches, colds and epilepsy, among other ailments. And the Portuguese took over the Maldives in the sixteenth century in part to gain access to the island's rich bounty of the redolent stuff.

Now that the incorruption of this most fragrant ambergris should be found in the heart of such decay; is this nothing? Bethink thee of that saying of St. Paul in Corinthians, about corruption and incorruption; how that we are sown in dishonor, but raised in glory.

A lucky couple in Australia recently happened upon a lump of ambergris on a beach and may have netted a huge windfall. Known as "floating gold," ambergris is a waxy grayish substance formed in the intestines of sperm whales and is added to perfumes to slow evaporation. A gram of ambergris is worth up to $20.

WRIGHT: We wasn't sure what it was, so my wife got on the internet and emailed some information to what it looked like. We thought it might have been a goiter. We didn't know what they were called even though we know what they were, and we thought it was a - so emailed to the whale people, and they said, well, from what you describe, it's not a goiter. It might be an ambergris or an ambergris. And they said, you know, good luck if it is.

NORRIS: Great luck, actually, because ambergris happens to be valuable stuff, often called floating gold. It's used in perfumes and medicine, and it can sell for as much as 20 bucks per gram. Now, a bit of an explanation is probably in order. Ambergris is a substance that giant sperm whales cough up, not exactly mucous, not really vomit. Let's just say it's a glob formed around undigestible (sic) remnants from their meals. As it floats in the ocean, sometimes for years, it solidifies and develops into what the Wrights found on the beach, and over the time, the ambergris takes on that heady aroma.

For centuries Egyptians used it to make teas, medicine, scented candles and perfumes. Herman Melville wrote about it in Moby Dick. For the Wrights in South Australia, the ambergris was a once in a lifetime discovery, so they high-tailed it back to the beach, hoping it was still there.

Now that the incorruption of this most fragrant ambergris should be found in the heart of such decay; is this nothing? Bethink thee of that saying of St. Paul in Corinthians, about corruption and incorruption; how that we are sown in dishonor, but raised in glory. And likewise call to mind that saying of Paracelsus about what it is that maketh the best musk. Also forget not the strange fact that of all things of ill-savor, Cologne-water, in its rudimental manufacturing stages, is the worst.

This document was downloaded from Lit2Go, a free online collection of stories and poems in Mp3 (audiobook) format published by the Florida Center for Instructional Technology. For more information, including classroom activities, readability data, and original sources, please visit -dick/773/chapter-92-ambergris/.


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