Did you know whale vomit was a real commodity? Here’s an eye opener for you:
Hard to believe that anyone could use something so disgusting as whale vomit, right? Well, the truth is that the whale vomit itself is useless–it’s what comes up with the vomit that has proven especially useful.
Sperm whales’ bile ducts secrete a substance known as ‘ambergris’ into the whales’ intestines. Some scientists believe that it’s secreted as a means of easing the passage of swallowed sharp or hard objects. Most hard, sharp objects are vomited by the whales, but if these objects get too far down the intestinal tract, the whale’s body responds by coating them in ambergris. Normally, the ambergris is eliminated via fecal matter, but sometimes the ambergris is too large for the whale to pass. When that happens, they expel it via their mouth. Here’s where the whale vomit story gets really wild…
Ambergris is known as “gold of the sea” because it sells for as much as $20 per gram. If you’re without a calculator right now, that’s the same pricing as several illegal drugs in American suburbs right now. Chew on that. Compare that to gold, which sells closer to $40, and you can see why it’s considered so valuable. Once the whale expels it, it floats along in the ocean until it washes up on shore. For those fortunate enough to find chunks of the stuff, it can be a truly monumental discovery.
But what is it about ambergris that makes it so valuable? Why would anyone want to pay so much for something that comes from a whale’s intestines?
The answer is simple: PERFUME.
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Ambergris is used by the fragrance industry to create musky odors. While it initially has a fishy smell, that smell can be easily changed and deepened. Every piece of ambergris has its own unique smell, and certain pieces can be worth thousands of dollars if sold to the right fragrance company or house. You see, ambergris has the unique ability to “fix” the smell of the perfume to the skin. It basically causes the smell to adhere, reducing the risk of the smell wearing off soon. The longest-lasting scents almost always contain ambergris.
However, it’s important to understand that ambergris is illegal in the U.S.–or, more specifically, it’s illegal to use in American-made perfumes and colognes. Considering that sperm whales are an endangered species, the U.S. has banned ambergris in order to prevent people from hunting the whales in order to collect ambergris.
On the flip side, in European markets, particularly in France, the use of ambergris is very common. Many French perfume houses use this whale vomit product, which is one reason French scents are some of the most popular in the world. What’s fascinating is that ambergris has been a popular fragrance substance for thousands of years. The ancient Chinese called it “dragon’s spittle fragrance”, and the Ancient Egyptians used to burn it as a sort of fragrant incense. Some cultures have even used it to flavor food, or as an aphrodisiac. In medieval Europe, it was used as a cure-all to relieve epilepsy, colds, headaches, and a wide range of other health problems. King Charles II of England’s favorite dish was rumored to be eggs served with ambergris.
Whatever its historic uses, it’s still one of the most highly valued substances today. A single chunk of the stuff can earn its finder tens of thousands of dollars, depending on the size, weight, and aroma. While it’s not legal in the U.S., those in Europe will often find a chunk of ambergris discovered on the beach can change their lives!
Think you’re above whale vomit? You’re wrong if you’ve ever worn any of these (but the list is really SO much longer):
- Tubereuse Indiana Creed for women
- L’Homme Parfum Intense Yves Saint Laurent for men
- Creed Green Irish Tweed
- Encens Mythique D’Orient Guerlain for women and men
- Silver Pearl Oribe for women and men
- Light Blue Swimming in Lipari Dolce&Gabbana for men
- Soul CoSTUME NATIONAL for women and men
- Compass Tommy Bahama for men
- Reveal Calvin Klein for women