Tuesday, 10 April 2007

Australian couple find floating gold

Continuing on the whale theme today, an Australian couple has had an extraordinary windfall: walking along a remote beach they found 32-pounds of sperm whale puke, for which the proper scientific word is ambergris. At first this may seem like a disgusting curiosity worth no more than a moment of notice for its scientific value, but in fact the monetary value of the discovery is estimated to be over $1 million USD!

Ambergris, often referred to as ‘floating gold’ is prized by perfume makers and sold for up to $90 USD/gram (gold is worth about $25 USD/gram). But trading ambergris is controversial and technically illegal. CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species) forbids trade of certain animals’ products for commercial purposes. However, it has difficulty committing to a ban on waste products by animals. Ambergris is formed when gastrointestinal materials harden around indigestible squid beaks that a sperm whale swallowed. When the mass gets large, the whale coughs it up (not unlike cats’ hairballs:)

It is not clear what will happen to the find. Though it is illegal to trade, precedent has thus far allowed its exchange.

6 comments:

Pam said...

You learn something new every day! I had never heard of ambergis before, so I definitely had no clue of its monetary value. Very interesting!

plusultra said...

That is very strange but interesting. This is the first time I have heard of this also. I hope the next time my girlfriend wears perfume I don't smell whale vomit!

laelaps said...

Reminds me of one of my favorite Futurama moments;

Aquarist: "You're covered in precious ambergris!"

Kif: "Precious hamburgers?"

oreneta said...

We think that we may have found some ambergris...it isn't with it, and as a result of the CITES restrictions on many things, we are a little unsure about what to do with it. Indeed we aren't even sure that it IS ambergris....it doesn't look much like your photos. Not so round, and lighter in colour.

Sarda Sahney said...

Orneta, in regards to whether your sample is or isn't ambergris, I am certainly no expert but my understanding is that the quite colour is variable (depending on its age) and the roundness is due to erosion by the sea. It shouldn't be too difficult to identify your sample, check out pictures and info on these pages:

http://www.ambergris.fr/ambergris_identification.htm
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ambergris

It should be noted that CITES rules on trading such products are ambiguous and restrictions on the trade of waste products are not enforced. Also, to my knowledge there is no sperm whale poaching for ambergris, as it is not viable for the ratio of effort / return.

In regards to what you do with it, if it is real, that is certainly a personal decision. Good Luck with it!

Gufo said...

kind of gross, uh? girls spray hardened, undigested matters all over them so they're more attractive to men. I wonder what an alien ethologist would think about this frankly puzzling behaviour. It would make for a couple good jokes on "3rd Rock from the Sun" :-)

(reading the title, I thought the floating gold was a kind of gold-pomice erupted by a volcano.)