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Jennifer Kennedy

You Never Know What You Might Find on the Beach

By September 3, 2012

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Last week BBC News reported an extraordinary beach find: when out for a walk on Hengistbury Head in Bournemouth, England, Charlie Naysmith and his dad Alex found a strange-looking rock. After researching it on Google (of course), they believe the rock is ambergris, a substance that comes from a whale's intestines and is thought to aid in the digestive process.

Ambergris comes only from sperm whales, the largest species of toothed whale, and pygmy sperm whales.  There is some debate over which end of the whale the ambergris comes from, or if it's expelled when a whale dies and decomposes. The ambergris is said to have a bad odor at first, but after years of floating on the ocean surface, develops a distinctive, musky smell.

Ambergris has been used for centuries in perfumes and medicines, and it is still sought-after by the perfume industry. Because of this, if the Naysmith's find is verified as true ambergris, it could be worth more then $60,000.

So, if you're walking on the beach this Labor Day, keep an eye out - who knows what you might find! But you might need to abide by certain regulations. Since sperm whales are an endangered species, possession of ambergris and other whale parts are not allowed in some areas, including the U.S.

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Comments

September 5, 2012 at 10:20 pm
(1) enwalker says:

This is fascinating. Loved your detailed page on ambergris too. Do you pronounce it like it’s spelled? Sperm whales are such mysterious creatures. (Though, why on earth we’d want to add animal waste to our perfumes is beyond me.)

September 22, 2012 at 9:57 am
(2) marinelife says:

Hi enwalker, thanks for your comment and good to hear from you! I was wondering about the pronunciation of ambergris, and a Google search revealed that it’s pronounced like “am-ber-grease.” And as I was writing this, I wondered who had the idea to add this to perfumes!

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