Thursday, June 30, 2016

Finding Sea Gold in Whale Vomit

Forget looking for seashells with the kids this summer. Instead hunt for ambergris.[1] In 2012, this piece was found by an 8-year old English boy. It was valued at 60k. Not bad for a beach treasure hunt. 

Ambergris is the waxy substance secreted in a sperm whale’s stomach that is used to coat indigestible objects. Once the sperm whale has coated a hard object (like a squid beak) with enough ambergris, it vomits its prize up - kind of like how a cat vomits up a hairball, except not on your favorite comforter.[2]

Charles II supposedly ate ambergris with his eggs. Yum. 

Although ambergris smells like feces when it first comes up, over time it hardens and smells quite pleasant….a bit like the original Chanel #5. Which is why it is so valuable. Ambergris was once used in Chanel #5 to make the scent last and is still used in high-end perfumes today. [3]

You can read more about how Coco Chanel invented her signature scent in my latest book:

Fashion Rebels: Style Icons Who Changed the World through Fashion

[1] If you find it on a U.S. beach, don’t try selling it. It is illegal to sell ambergris in the U.S. due to the sperm whale’s endangered status.
[2] Some scientists think it more often comes out of the whale’s back end. 
[3] You won’t find it in Chanel #5 today. U.S. perfumes no longer use it. But it is fair game in many expensive French perfumes.

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