Will fragrance makers be tempted by whale vomit?

By Simon Pitman

- Last updated on GMT

A couple that stumbled on a large waxy lump washed up on a South
Australian beach could be set to make a million after it turned out
to be Ambergris, a substance found in whale intestines and a
much-prized ingredient for fragrance makers.

Reports in a number of Australian newspapers suggest that because of its expectional size and rarity, the 14.7 kg lump could be worth up to AUD$1 million ($750,000).

Found by Leon Wright and his wife, it evidently took the couple two weeks after they first spotted on the beach before they finally got round to salvaging it, purely out of curiousity. They then took it to a marine expert where they got the surprising identification.

Ambergris, or grey amber, is actually bile secreted by sperm whales to help them digest food. Once discharged it can float on water until it is either pulled in by fishermen or washed up on land.

The substance, which is one of the rarest fragrance ingredients in the world, is at its optimum following several years of exposure to the elements, after which time it dries out and forms a smooth outer surface that contains a dung-like substance.

Newly deposited Ambergris is said to smell absolutely foul. But following a few years of exposure to salt water and sun, the lump eventually boasts a sweet, musky and alluring smell that many leading fragrance makers says adds a distinct and highly appealing character.

Although it is found all over the world, Antipodean Ambergris is particularly sought after as the waters and environmental conditions are said to produce a purer substance.

Leading supplier Ambergris.co.nz currently markets Ambergris at $20 a gram. The company emphasizes that all of its Ambergris is collected by hand by beachcombers and that no harm comes to the whales.

The substance has traditionally been known as a by-product of sperm whaling, which often makes it difficult to trade. Currently trading of Ambergris is banned in the US under legislation to protect endangered species.

However, there are not likely to be too many individuals with the capacity to ready the substance for use in the fragrance industry, point being that the only facility in the world that processes Ambergris is found in France.

On the other hand, the substance is also used in certain medical preparations and is equally revered in some cultures as an aphrodisiac, which could encourage a little more interest.

For fragrance production, the ingredient is used as a fixative, and high quality formulations that contain it currently include Amouage, Miss Dior, Parure, Vol de Nuit and Black For Him by Kenneth Cole.

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