Sep

4

 Ambergris is featured in a recent story about a young, English beachcomber, and in a new book entitled Floating Gold: A Natural (and Unnatural) History of Ambergris by Christopher Kemp.

Beachcombers along some of New Zealand's beaches are evidently quite protective of their collecting locations.

1) "Boy Finds Bonanza in Whale Vomit"

An 8-year-old boy in England could be up to $63,000 richer, thanks to a piece of solidified whale vomit he picked up on the beach. The chunk may look like a yellow-brownish rock, but it's actually a primo piece of ambergris, an expensive perfume ingredient that is, um, spewed out by whales.

2) Two quotes from Kemp :

"There is simply no stranger substance in the natural world. When it washes ashore, it is worth almost as much as gold. At various times, it has been worth double, and even triple, the value of gold. Even today, ambergris is found in farflung places like the Maldives, the Bahamas, and the Philippines, and then transported across the world, to be sold in Singapore, Dubai and the South of France."

"If you believe what you read in the media," he says, "you'd think ambergris is something that people just find by accident." The truth, he claims, is far more clandestine. "There's a whole underground network of full-time collectors and dealers trying to make their fortune in ambergris. They know the beaches and the precise weather conditions necessary for ambergris to wash up on the shore." And when whale-poop gold is on the line, he says, "it can get violent."

3) "How to Identify Ambergris"

Ambergris has an unusual odour which is difficult to explain to anyone who has never had the pleasure of its sensual aroma. Ambergris is often described as being musky and having a sweet earthy aroma unlike any other, or a mossy fragrance reminiscent of the damp forest floor. Depending on the quality of the ambergris there can be a great variation in the fragrance. Poor quality or fresh ambergris (which is black and sticky) is fairly offensive in fragrance. If you can imagine scented cow dung you will be on the right track. Many people expect ambergris to have a very strong or foul odour, but this is not the case. In general, lighter coloured pieces of ambergris have a subtle, pleasant smell. The base animal (manure) odour fades as the ambergris cures. However, the white and grey varieties, in particular, possess the subtle, sweet addictive aroma that beachcombing dreams are made of. 


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