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Why is Whale Vomit Expensive?

Whales are a highly diverse group of marine mammals. Even though they live in the water, they also breathe air, and just like humans, are warm-blooded and nurse their young. But did you know that whale vomit actually costs a fortune and is often termed as floating gold?

Ambergis or whale vomit is used in perfumes to make the scent last longer. The hard waxy solid made up of whale bile duct juices and undigested squid beaks form a hard waxy solid that costs tens of thousands of dollars per kilogram.

What is Ambergris?

Ambergis is described as one of the world’s strange, naturally occurring substances. It is often produced by sperm whales and has been used for centuries. The fossilized evidence of the substance dates back 1.75 million years, and humans are said to have used it for more than a thousand years.

It has been called the treasure of the sea or floating gold due to its extremely high value in the market. Before the 1800s, people had no idea where Ambergis came from. They speculated that it was just hardened seafoam or an accumulation of bird droppings. It wasn’t until large-scale whaling uncovered the truth behind the mystery substance. (Source: Natural History Museum UK)

Where Does Ambergris Come From?

When whaling became a trend in the 1800s, the sole producer of ambergris was identified to be the sperm whale or Physeter macrocephalus. Sperm whales eat large amounts of cephalopods like squid and cuttlefish. The beaks and pens of these creatures are indigestible and are often spit out. On rare occasions, these parts move into the whale’s intestines and bind together with other juices found within the sperm whale. They begin to build up into a large solid mass that grows inside the whale over some time. It is assumed that the ambergris protects the whale’s internal organs from the sharp squid beaks. (Source: Natural History Museum UK)

How Does the Whale Expell the Ambergris?

There are conflicting ideas on how the ambergris ends up floating around on the ocean. Some experts believe that the whale regurgitates the mass, which is why it is popularly known as whale vomit. While others, like Richard Sabin, Curator of Marine Mammals of the Natural History Museum in the United Kingdom, think otherwise.

Based upon recent discussion with colleagues around the world, I lean towards the theory that ambergris forms in the intestines and passes along with faecal matter, forming an obstruction in the rectum.

Richard Sabin, Curator of Marine Mammals of the Natural History Museum in the United Kingdom

The occurrence of the ambergris is quite rare, and it is only found in 5% of whale carcasses. (Source: Natural History Museum UK)

Why is Ambergris Expensive?

According to today’s market, a kilogram of ambergris can be sold up to $40,000 per kilogram. A woman from Marang, Malaysia, was fishing near the Malaysian Fisheries Development Authority when she spotted a strange object floating on the water. She first assumed that it was trash, but her father, a seasoned fisherman, knew better. He told her that it could be whale vomit.

Dad tried burning the object and it melted like a candle and gave out a sweet smell. I had never heard of whale vomit and was surprised when finding out about its high value on the Internet.

Aida Zurina Long

A sample of the chunk has been sent to the University of Malaysia Terengganu to determine whether or not the substance found is ambergris. If confirmed, Long will be a millionaire with the 5-kilogram lump she has found.

The main reason ambergris is quite expensive is due to its rarity. Perfume makers put a high value on the product since it allows scents to last longer naturally. (Source: Says)

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