Every so often, a fatberg -esque blob of material called ambergris washes up on a beach. These lumps, used to make perfume, can be worth thousands of dollars in countries where it is legal to collect them. Historically, hunters have trained dogs and even camels to sniff out ambergris. Where it comes from has been less clear. But in a study published Wednesday in Biology Letters , researchers have extracted sperm whale DNA from washed-up ambergris, which is especially impressive because the studied samples floated adrift for years, aging under salt, sea and sun. The research could contribute a new understanding about the enigmatic substance and the endangered creatures that make it.
Passing the sniff test: Is this large collection ambergris?
Lucky Fishermen Have Stumbled Across a $3 Million Lump of Whale Vomit
The vegetal fossil Amber that is polished for being used in jewellery and the purified Ambergris of the Sperm-whale used by the perfumer are two very different substances but they share the same name, the same light and the same destiny under many aspects; for instance both are found on the beaches, they are both lighter than seawater, and both of them, before human work transforms them, look without value, unattractive and rough. Both ambers are among the most ancient substances that man traded between Europe and China. Both belong to all the ancient pharmacopoeia and both were eaten and burnt as incense. This explains somehow the large degree of confusion to which is confronted the researcher in the literature about Amber, and the investigator can easily be disoriented because informations about Amber are hidden more than revealed in the ancient books, rather like a secret of alchemy.
Why "Whale Vomit" Smells So Delicious
This highly sought-after ingredient for high-end perfumes starts out as a waxy excretion in the intestines of sperm whales. Most likely the substance that was eaten as an ingredient in that pie was pooped out by a sperm whale years before. And then floated around the ocean until it washed up on a beach and was discovered by an ambergris hunter. In the summer of a lump of ambergris weighing about 80 pounds washed up on a beach in New Zealand.
Ambergris remains a mystical matter for perfumers. It is a rust-proof waxy substance released from the intestines of the sperm whale or sperm whale " Physeter macrocephalus " spontaneously or after death. Freshly expelled, amber has an unpleasant odor, a blackish color and a soft consistency. Under the effect of the sea water and the atmosphere, the amber lightens gradually, becomes silver gray to yellow gold, hardens, the smell is refined, becomes softer and very pleasant and at final, it becomes almost white. Floating at sea is necessary to help amber to ripen, so hunting the sperm whale for it is useless.