If you are walking down the beach and you come across a smelly rock, you might not want to disregard it. Instead, it could really be your lucky day.
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A couple in the UK did just that a few days ago. They came across a large rock that quite a few people are calling "whale vomit." This "rock" could be something called ambergris, which is a rare substance that people use to help perfumes stick to the skin and last longer.
“Ambergris is definitely not vomit,” Christopher Kemp, author of “Floating Gold: A Natural (and Unnatural) History of Ambergris,” told CNN. “It’s more like poop, and it comes from the same place as poop, but it’s only made by a small percentage of sperm whales, as a result of indigestion.”
Gary ad Angela Williams found the rock after the followed a particularly pungent smell while they were walking on the Middleton Sands beach near Morecambe Bay. It let them to what they believe is an extremely large lump of ambergris.
“Ambergris feels a little waxy, and smells very complex: a mixture of dung and the ocean, and old wood, and tobacco, and moist earth, and ozone,” Kemp said.
The substance, which is often called "floating gold" by those who hunt for it, is produced by an incredibly small number of sperm whales. It is so rare and difficult to find that it can float in the ocean for decades before it is found, usually when it washes up on the shore.
Now, don't quit your job and take off to the nearest beach to find ambergris, because it isn't found all that often and is rare. It is also extremely difficult to identify, as there are a lot of things that can look like it.
“That’s why so many people think they’ve found it, and then discover they haven’t,” Kemp said. He even suspects that the find from the couple might not be genuine. While the ambergris is waxy, this substance is "too waxy" and seems to more like animal fat than it is ambergris.
Still, if it is real, the ambergris will be worth $70,000. They are negotiating with buyers in New Zealand and France.
The last time a lump this big was found was in 2012, when an 8-year-old British schoolboy found a 1.3-pound mass of it that was worth $63,000.
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Harvesting ambergris doesn't hurt the whales, though the trade of it is band in the United States because the whales are endangered.