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The Almighty Buck Science

The Vomit Worth Millions? 101

ozmanjusri writes "ABC is reporting that a family in Australia recently found a large lump of ambergris, which they believe may be worth millions. It is a fascinating material, created by a sperm whale's intestine in response to irritation, probably caused by the undigested beaks of squid. The waxy mass is coughed out by the whale during a belch which is reported to be audible kilometers away, and is a putrid stinking mass. Floating in salt water and exposure to sunlight for ten years or more matures the waxy blob into a grey, sweet smelling solid which is used as a base for perfumes. Although the family may be able to sell the ambergris, it cannot be used in Australia or the US, since both countries are signatories to the Washington Treaty, which bans the trade of musk deer and whale products for perfume."
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The Vomit Worth Millions?

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  • Yuck... (Score:3, Funny)

    by __aaclcg7560 ( 824291 ) on Wednesday January 25, 2006 @06:41AM (#14556022)
    When you thought that a cat's hairball was bad enough...
  • ...eat your heart out.
  • by Sockatume ( 732728 ) on Wednesday January 25, 2006 @06:49AM (#14556049)
    I always wondered what the "Woohoo, I'm rich" and "OMG, I'm sitting next to a big lump of vomit" expressions would look like combined.
  • by spiny ( 87740 ) on Wednesday January 25, 2006 @06:49AM (#14556050) Homepage Journal
    I'll simply shed my skin!
  • Not quite millions (Score:4, Interesting)

    by GroeFaZ ( 850443 ) on Wednesday January 25, 2006 @06:59AM (#14556076)
    But still not bad for a random walk on the beach. An article I read states that the material is worth around 17 Euro/gramm. The lump was around 15 Kg, which made the couple a smooth 240.000 Euros.
  • Futurama (Score:2, Funny)

    by ASayre8 ( 612723 )
    Didn't Futurama already cover this in one of it's episodes?
  • Can't be sold (Score:3, Informative)

    by cheesee ( 97693 ) on Wednesday January 25, 2006 @07:24AM (#14556149) Homepage
    Ambergris is classified as a product of a whale under Australian law, so the family is unable to sell it commercially. It can be sold for research purposes but it requires permits for export. The most they can do with it in Australia is donate it to a museum or use it as centerpiece for their dining room table.
    • I guess they could sell it to a foreign middle man for "research" purposes, whereas then he would sell it to a perfume company.
    • Smuggling.

      It's not hard. Slap the crap in a crate and mail it to the buyer. Just don't TELL anyone first.

      I think that these folks probably lost what could have been a fairly lucrative and harmless black market adventure.

    • RTFA (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Potor ( 658520 )
      I don't think their target is fellow Australians. According to tfa, the last one found was sold abroad:
      "I do know that the most recent find in Queensland ... attracted a gentleman from Indonesia who bought it ... so who knows?"
    • by un.sined ( 946837 ) <un.sined@NoSpAM.gmail.com> on Wednesday January 25, 2006 @12:30PM (#14558587) Homepage Journal
      Dear Sir or Madam,
      I am writing to you with a business opportunity. We have a large chunk of whale vomit that one of our deceased investors was keeping. As we've spent several months attempting to locate a next of kin... etc, etc, etc.
  • Unfortunately... (Score:4, Informative)

    by madaxe42 ( 690151 ) on Wednesday January 25, 2006 @07:25AM (#14556152) Homepage
    It's actually more often than not illegal to posess it - as it's a product of an endangered species - if they don't burn it, and soon, they could find themselves doing jail time.
    • by kimba ( 12893 ) on Wednesday January 25, 2006 @07:33AM (#14556176)
      Yeah. Except for the fact Australia is generally one of the countries where police use their discretion to let common sense prevail, rather than haul people away for breaching the letter of the law.
      • True, but they'll still have difficulties if they try to sell it - trafficking of whale products isn't taken kindly to - if they do want to sell it they're best off contacting Givaudan-Delawanna, Incorporated and Van Amerigen-Haebler, both of New York City.
      • Except for the fact Australia is generally one of the countries where police use their discretion to let common sense prevail, rather than haul people away for breaching the letter of the law.
        You're right. Other countries haul people away for breaching the letter of the law, then dump them in Australia [wikipedia.org].
    • by Feanturi ( 99866 )
      I'm not arguing with you, but rather the lawmakers that would have it so: It's stupid because it's a waste product from the whale, that has to float around in the ocean for a decade before becoming what it is. I can't see how the interest in such a product is of any harm to whales, it's not something you need to kill them for.
      • Ah, but you have to understand the fun side of this stuff: it's something that you can kill whales for. Take a whale, rip it open, pull out whale vomit, float vomit in sun exposed salt water tank for 10 years, sell for massive profit. Fun!
    • It's actually more often than not illegal to posess it - as it's a product of an endangered species - if they don't burn it, and soon, they could find themselves doing jail time.

      Yeah, but it's not as if anyone went anywhere near a whale to get it.

      It just seems so odd -- a whale horks up a loogie in the ocean, it floats around and changes into something else. It then washes up on a beach and someone picks it up.

      To be violating a law just seems wierd in that case. Imagine, if, hypothetically, a panda took a

      • If it became legal to sell the vomit, then perhaps people would start to farm the vomit, resulting in harm to the whales (holding whales in captivity, seeding ambergris through unhealthy diet, inducing vomit in unhealthy ways).

        I suppose you could open up a loophole, allowing for sale of naturally occurring vomit, but that would still provide a motive for "encouraging" naturally occurring vomit (through the surreptitious methods listed above).

        Man, I loved typing "vomit" so many times!
      • Jeez you guys! What a bunch of ignoramuses! Don't ANY of you know about the whaling industry or history or maybe read Moby Dick in school? Gods....

        The whole reason whales have been hunted was to rip stuff out of 'em, one of the ingredients being ambergris. And yeah, there are still factory ships out there with exploding harpoons, just waiting to be put back into commission. While modern technology has replaced whale oil, whalebone corset stays, and most of the scrimshaw industry, there are still plenty of p
    • Well, I am sure this glass of pure mountain spring water, has a super tiny bit of ex-whale piss, and being in the US, can Evian ( wich coencidently is Naive backwards) be taken to court for selling a whale byproduct? I am sure this chunk of whatever is only a small part of what the whale originaly hurled.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    ...I believe they'd have to give it to the Queen. Whales and their, err, byproducts, are subject to Crown privilege, as are a number of other animals and fish. It's a handy way to prevent trade in endangered species, even though it originates from making sure that the Crown is always richer than everyone else, because fortunately enough, what was considered rare enough to put under it originally are species which are threatened today.
    • Almost true. Actually, all whales in the dominion are the property of the queen, and if there is one, the king - the tail of the whale is the queen's property (for her whalebone corsets) and the rest is the king's - for the meat and blubber.

      In 1970 the queen voluntarily repealed her right to this law, however lords refused to pass the motion, so the queen does still own all whales.

      That said, the natural history museum has first dibs on any marine animals to wash up on british coastline.
    • by Anonymous Coward
      Surely it would be the property of her son Charles.
  • mmmm (Score:2, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward
    Brian: Ambergris by Odion. It's made with real bits of whale vomit so you know it's good. This stuff is illegal in 9 countries.
    Ron: Yes, it's quite pungent, it stings the nostrils... in a good way though. Brian, I'm gonna be honest with you: that stuff smells like pure gasoline.
    Brian: They've done studies you know, they say 60% of the time, it works every time.
    Ron: That doesn't make any sense.
  • Ugh (Score:3, Funny)

    by A beautiful mind ( 821714 ) on Wednesday January 25, 2006 @07:47AM (#14556206)
    I should know better than to read /. during breakfast.

    Excuse me...
    • Keep a careful track of that breakfast you just regurgitated. Float it around in the ocean for 10 years, and someone may pay big money for it.
  • Family finds whale puke on beach. Wait until they try to sell it for millions.
    Next, on Sick sad world ... (no-one will get this)
  • by Zog The Undeniable ( 632031 ) on Wednesday January 25, 2006 @08:21AM (#14556337)
    The law in this case does seem to be a bit of an ass. Selling ambergris doesn't hurt the whale any more than it hurt Shatner to sell his kidney stone [bbc.co.uk] (although presumably it was a little unpleasant for him at the time said stone actually came out, ouch).

    You can't catch and kill a whale to extract ambergris, because the stuff has to weather naturally for years, so it should be obvious it was just a lucky find.

    Incidentally, the captcha for making this post was "inerited". WTF?

    • by Anonymous Coward
      Get yer self a Grays. The tube from the kidney to the bladder is the Ureter and, I've read, about the size of a pencil lead. You're thinking of the Urethra, which is quite a bit bigger, although I'm sure it wasn't pleasant there either. I've known a grown man doubled up on the floor of a car while the pressure of urine backing up in his kidney pushed a stone through the ureter to his bladder. Yikes. I get the attempted joke here but jeez, this is your body, you ought to know a little something about it. Pe
  • by 4181 ( 551316 ) on Wednesday January 25, 2006 @08:54AM (#14556475)
    The article states: If you were to take it ... immediately after the whale has expelled it, then you would put it back in the water, because apparently the smell is horrific.

    But in chapter 91 of Moby Dick, The Pequod Meets The Rose-Bud [americanliterature.com], Stubb fast talks a French whaler out of a dead bloated whale, and then harvests a purse of ambergris directly from its bowels.

    --
    Stubb to the French Captain via a symapthetic interpreter: Thank him heartily; but tell him it's against my principles to drink with the man I've diddled.

    • I was just thinking the same thing. Ambergris was one of the most profitable parts of whaling back in those days, and they didn't just find it sitting on beaches or floating in the ocean; they harvested it from the whales themselves. Someone has their information wrong, and I'd be surprised if it were Melville.
      • Melville does have an entire chapter where he talks about whales as giant fish instead of mammals, you know. So he certainly can be wrong when discussing whales. However, I agree that it's unlikely he'd be wrong about the harvesting aspects, since those were well understood at the time.
  • What exactly... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Eivind ( 15695 ) <eivindorama@gmail.com> on Wednesday January 25, 2006 @09:26AM (#14556642) Homepage
    What exactly is the sense of forbidding trade in a product with whale-origin that in no way influences the whale if used ? I mean, it's literally ten year old vomit from the whales POV. It's not like any whale will in any way be negatively influenced by the harvesting (i.e. picking up from beach) and selling of this item.
    • If anything, allowing this type of trade would improve the chances of whale survival in that you need whales around to keep producing the fresh stuff so that ten years latter you have the "good" stuff. I wonder if there is a way to quickly age it properly?

      I heard a story about aligators in Florida being an endangered species. Then someone realized that people paid big bucks for aligator leather goods and started farming them. There are now a lot of aligators in Florida.

      It sounds much like mankind's hist

      • That's some strange logic you have working there - better to be farmed and killed for leather goods than to just gently go extinct. Try applying that same reasoning to humans and see how it sounds. Given the choice between death for my species or life as livestock - I would chose death.
      • Or it could lead to unrestraining harvesting an extinction of the animal. As is the case with cod and the UK fishing industry.

        http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/842087.stm [bbc.co.uk]
      • It's funny how people get this idea that since we can farm land-dwelling animals (cows, alligators, crocodiles, swinge) that we can also do the exact same thing with animals that dwell in the oceans (whales, blue fin tuna). Come ON, boys! Get your head out. The environments are comletely different, as are the animals in question.
    • It's not like any whale will in any way be negatively influenced by the harvesting (i.e. picking up from beach) and selling of this item.

      well, not everyone [indymedia.org] waits until the whale vomits... probably because you can make money off of unpuked whale stuff, too.

    • Re:What exactly... (Score:3, Informative)

      by Surt ( 22457 )
      As I posted elsewhere:
      http://science.slashdot.org/comments.pl?sid=175059 &cid=14557197 [slashdot.org]

      The danger is that if this stuff was commercially viable, you could go out, kill a dozen whales, find the one that had some vomit in its stomach, stick that vomit in a saltwater tank for ten years, and sell the result.

      In some ways, it's a lot like forbidding the sale of elephant ivory: after all, you can collect the tusks of dead elephants from the secret elephant burial grounds with no harm to the elephant population,
    • For the same reason African states don't trade in elephant ivory they seized from poachers, or Western states don't trade in illegal drugs: The trade with it such items is forbidden, and any contract involving a forbidden trade is void.
      • For the same reason African states don't trade in elephant ivory they seized from poachers, or Western states don't trade in illegal drugs: The trade with it such items is forbidden, and any contract involving a forbidden trade is void.

        It's forbidden because it's forbidden? Nice solid argument, there.

        • Well, I think the reason for why the trade is initially forbidden should be clear, so I didn't mention it (and by the way, you also subtly changed the subject from outlawing exceptions to outlawing the trade at all): to outlaw the market for resources that are for the most part won by decimating an endangered species. However, if you allow exceptions to this law, like, say, selling ivory that was seized, then it would have several negative effects: First of all, to even allow this exception, the law has to
          • The difference being, of course, that you can't get ambergris by harming whales, and you can't get ivory without harming elephants, so the comparison, and thus any law prohibiting the sale of ambergris, is silly.
            • You can't obtain ambergris by catching a whale and ripping him open? It's the only way, if you rule out extremely rare chance finds like the one in the article.
          • to outlaw the market for resources that are for the most part won by decimating an endangered species.

            Fine. If that was the case, I'd agree full-heartedly. But the thing is Ambra is *NOT* for the most part won by "decimating an endangered species", infact I don't know that it's even *POSSIBLE* to win ambra by hunting whales, because there's no way to know which whales would have the precursor of ambra in its intestine, and even if you knew which one, extracting it and working it to ambra would very likel

    • What exactly is the sense of forbidding trade in a product with whale-origin that in no way influences the whale if used?

      To prevent dishonest people from going whaling, killing the animal, scumming its intestine, then going back to port and claiming to have found it washed up on an island beach. Though this is a particularly extreme example due to the cost of the material, in general it's best to set up preventative laws like these to prevent bad people from having a financial incentive to do bad things.
      • On the other hand, making things illegial creates a black market in which the value of said item increases greatly. This makes the incentive to collect much higher and the probablilty that most if not all of this stuff is harvested from killed whales.
  • by CptNerd ( 455084 ) <adiseker@lexonia.net> on Wednesday January 25, 2006 @10:18AM (#14557077) Homepage

    Man, it would be great to add a recording of whale hork to one of those insipid 80's "Songs of the Whale" collections...

    "And now we will record the haunting sounds of these gentle***HOOOOOOOORRRRRKKKK***Splat*** Dear God in Heaven, what was *that*?"

  • by NoseBag ( 243097 ) on Wednesday January 25, 2006 @10:21AM (#14557101)
    ...Read "Perfume" by Patrick Suskind for more information on disgusting substances used in the perfume industry. Its also a hell of a good story.

    If you think whale barf is bad, check out civet.
  • If Pixar ever does a Finding Nemo sequel, they've just got to have a whale belching up a stinking pile of squid beaks. The kids would love that.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    ... and it evolved into management at my last job. Alas, now I know where they came from! Thanks, slashdot!
  • would not want my picture---my one chance at fame---to be the one where I am posing on a beach next to a glob of whale vomit.
  • Roseanne "Ambergris. Noun. A grease-like product of the sperm whale's digestive tract that is used as a base in the finest perfumes. This has been Roseanne, your guide to the world of facts." - Thanks Futurama

  • Does this remind anyone else of the Spice of Arrakis? Large animal, poisonous excretion from it's guts, which metamorph into something valuable. Interesting.
  • Biologist: I don't want your watch! You're covered in precious ambergris! Kif: Precious Hamburgers?
  • Ah Yes... (Score:4, Funny)

    by eno2001 ( 527078 ) on Wednesday January 25, 2006 @01:39PM (#14559531) Homepage Journal
    ...in the multi-billion year quest to attract mates, practices such as bathing in putrid whale vomit are just as common today as wearing stoat carcass on one's head once was. Yep. We've progressed alright. ;p

All science is either physics or stamp collecting. -- Ernest Rutherford

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