It Started Out as an Innocent Stroll Along the Beach...
Gary and Angela Williams have always enjoyed long walks on the beach. Immersing themselves in the fresh air of the Middleton Sands beach near Morecambe Bay in England was one of their favorite pasttimes.
...but This Walk Was Out of the Ordinary
One of their favorite things about these walks was finding strange objects on the sands. Having come across enough unusual objects to have come to distinguish between trash and treasure, they were puzzled by the mound they stumbled upon.
Then They Found Something...
At first they dismissed it as nothing of real significance, but after a couple second glances they were caught completely by surprise!
But What Was It?
To the Williams, it just looked like a smooth, gray oval. Knowing water could shape rocks into this kind of shape and texture, they didn’t immediately mark it as anything exceptional. However, something about it made the couple pause, and for good reason...
There Was Something Familiar About It...
The artifact had a strange glossy feel to it, but there seemed to be other materials trapped together—some rocky pieces as well as some sea shells created what looked to be its body. Gary and Angela noticed the strangest thing only as they got closer.
The odd "rock" the Williams had come across stank! Not just a dead fish smell either. This had a retch all to its own. Gary described it as “a cross between a squid and farmyard manure.”
Know When to Walk Away, Know When to Run
At this point, a normal person would have high-tailed it to a less fragrant beach. But the Williams weren’t normal--they thought they might be on to something.
Could it Be Ambergris?
The couple's guess was that the odd substance was ambergris, but if that guess proved to be incorrect then it could be worthless. But if gross was any indication of value, then they might have hit a jackpot!
What is Ambergris?
At this point it's important to know what ambergris is. Ambergris is a substance produced in the bile ducts of a whale’s intestine when certain objects cannot be digested. They meld together and solidify over time.
Ambergris = Whale Vomit
Then, the clump either gets passed out of the whale’s body—we'll let you guess which end it comes out of—or it stays inside. Either way, this meshed-together goodness is basically hard whale vomit. This isn’t much different from another creature that does something similar; can you guess which?
Ambergris = Pearls
Pearls come from a similar process done by oysters. Grain of sand gets trapped and turned into a pearl. Can you imagine if instead of pearls we wore whale chunks around as jewelry? However, this isn’t what makes it so valuable.
So What's it Worth?
A small, three-and-a-half-pound chunk of whale vomit has a hefty price tag bringing in potentially more than $70,000! Pretty good find for just wanting to walk on the beach, right?
But It Gets Sweeter With Age
Ambergris ages into a sweeter smell over a period of time and has been a key part of extremely pricey perfumes for centuries. I wonder who first figured this out, as that would be an odd thing to keep around until it started to smell good...
Always Have a Plan B
That’s good to know. If your bottle of Chanel No. 5 ever runs out, all you’ve got to do is dig vomit rocks out of a beached whale.
It Was a Staple in Ancient Cultures
Even ancient cultures, such as the Egyptians, used ambergris in on way or another in its sweet-smelling state. Incense was the air freshener of the ancient world, and ambergris was the name brand. That makes sense at it does smell good, eventually, but some people had very odd uses for it.
Historical Uses for Ambergris
Medieval doctors during the plague even decided that the best way to keep the smell of the infected and dying at bay was to use ambergris as one of the scents in their masks.
That Says A Lot
You know things are rough when the scent of whale vomit is preferable to breathing fresh air.
It Was a Staple in the Royal Diet
King Charles II, who had a veracious appetite for life, also had a taste—yes, taste—for ambergris and eggs. That’s right, he ate whale chunks! In todays terms, that's probably a very expensive meal—even for royalty standards.
They've Got Bad Taste
We might be able to get behind eating a whale, but eating the stuff that comes out of a whale? No thanks.
Ambergris is Illegal in Countries (Like the U.S.)
Oddly enough, even though this chunk of whale bile can be found naturally, in some countries it is illegal to even possess it, such as the United States. Luckily for the Williamses, the possession of ambergris is legal in the UK.
It's a National Tragedy
What is the country coming to when we can’t even possess smelly whale refuse? Surely there’s got to be an amendment about that.
Moby Dick Taught Us a Valuable Lesson
The reason behind these laws is for the sake of the whales. As we all know from Moby Dick, whales have been hunted almost to the point of extinction. Even though ambergris is considered a waste product, the value of it is so high that poachers are still willing to break the law to make a few bucks. Those lucky enough to find this on their beaches though need to make sure it is the genuine article.
The Williams couple needed verification from an authority, so they shipped their potentially newfound treasure to New Zealand and France. Crossing their fingers, they hoped that 1.) the package would be delivered, and 2.) the experts would send back good news. And good news they got!
The experts confirmed that the waxy rock like thing was ambergris, but they need a bit more time to look it over to give a guess on the total value. There are different varieties based on age and location. Yes, there is a complete science behind whale chunks.
And They Lived Happily Ever After
No matter what though, the couple were definitely in for tens of thousands of dollars. Not a bad haul for just talking a walk on the beach!