Floating Gold

Ambergris adds new meaning to the phrase, “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure.” These waxy, smelly lumps form in a Sperm Whale’s intestines, around sharp objects like squid beaks. Eventually, they are ejected out of the whale’s blow hole into the water.

When ambergris first erupts from the whale’s body, it is soft and has a powerful, poop-like odor. After a lingering baptism of years on the open seas, ambergris washes ashore cleansed of its fowl odor, and imbued with an earthy, sweet scent.

The finest perfumes in the world contain this substance as a fixative. What began as an irritant in a whale’s digestive tract has transformed into a rare, and precious mark of luxury. Since Sperm Whale numbers are falling, ambergris is becoming harder to find and growing exponentially in value. In fact, one lucky couple recently found a 15 kg lump of the stuff worth $295,000 on an Australian beach!

The lady smiled at his remark, and next stopped at the shop of a perfumer, of whom she bought ten kinds of scented waters; rose-water, and orange-flower-water, and willow-flower-water, &c.; together with some sugar, and a sprinkling-bottle of rose-water infused with musk, and some frankincense, and aloes-wood, and ambergris, and musk, and wax candles; and, placing all these in the crate, she said, Take up thy crate, and follow me.

From "The Story of the Porter and the Ladies of Baghdad, and of the Three Royal Mendicants, Etc.," One Thousand and One Nights

All materials on this page by Julia Steiman