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Wednesday, 25 January 2006

Ambergris On The Beach

Dear Reader,

Today we learn about ambergris, that magnificent vomit of sperm whales that can make a beachcomber's afternoon a most profitable one. In West Australia, a woman named Loralee discovered that a stump-like item, resting on the beach for days, was actually ambergris. Ambergris is used in the perfume making industry, to slow down the evaporation of perfumes. In its raw form, it smells terrible. A quote from today's story of interest:

Ambergris is, in basic terms, what the sperm whale can’t digest.

It’s a combination of things like squid beaks and juice found inside sperm whales, but Mr Jury says that it is the quirky way the ambergris is released from the whale that really makes it off.

“They actually belch it out, and apparently those rare souls across the world who have actually heard this happen, say you can hear it for miles.”

Once the whale has belched up the ambergris it stays in the ocean for around a decade.

“If you were to take it… immediately after the whale has expelled it, then you would put it back in the water, because apparently the smell is horrific. But importantly it has to float around the oceans of the world for ten years… so that the sun and the water of the oceans can wash it, until all the nasties have gone and it assumes that sweetness that we’re witnessing now.”

Mr Jury says scientists believe only about one per cent of sperm whales release ambergris.

Well, the next time you go to Pangkor Island, or Redang Island ... or even Sentosa ... try to keep an eye out for anything stump-like. Just don't forget to bring along a hot screwdriver to poke into it -- that's one of the two tests of real ambergris!

At USD$20 per gram, the 14.7kg chunk of ambergris could make Loralee's family richer by US$295,000 (£165,300).

Beach trips will never be the same again :)
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