You learn something new everyday. Recently on a beach in Dorset, a U.K. boy and his father were walking along when the kid spotted what appeared to be a very strange rock. When they returned home and did some research, they learned that the one-pound “rock” was in fact an impossibly rare discovery of ambergris, an intestinal slurry ejected by sperm whales which hardens over time as it floats on the surface of the ocean, eventually landing on a beach.
As National Geographic reports: “The value of ambergris lies in its role in the fragrance industry. High-end perfumes from houses such as CHANEL and Lanvin take advantage of the ability of ambergris to fix scent to human skin. The smell of ambergris itself varies from piece to piece, ranging from earthy to musky to sweet. If a perfume house’s ‘nose’—the person responsible for choosing scents—likes the aroma, the ambergris can be worth thousands an ounce. Though it is illegal to use ambergris in perfumes in the U.S. because of the sperm whale’s endangered status, foreign markets, especially French, remain strong.”
Scientists are still not 100% certain of the origins of ambergris. What they do know is that when an irritant gets stuck in the stomach or throat of a sperm whale (oftentimes it’s a squid’s beak) the whale’s immune system will coat that irritant in a greasy substance and eject it. For years it was assumed the substance was ejected through the mouth, but new research speculates it likely goes through the back door.