Animals

$70K Worth of Whale Vomit Found By UK Couple

The substance is prized by the fragrance industry.

A couple in the United Kingdom, out for a stroll on a beach, got a lot more to show for their walk than a bit of exercise. They found a chunk of whale vomit that could net them a nice chunk of cash.

According to Mirror Online, Gary and Angela Williams, from Lancashire, noticed a foul smell on Middleton Sands Beach, close to Morecambe Bay. They traced the odor to its source and came upon the unusual item.

The reason whale vomit is worth anything at all, let alone able to fetch a nice price, is that the fragrance industry prizes it for its ability to help scents like perfume hang around longer.

VIDEO: Why Is Whale Vomit So Valuable?

Mirror Online reports that the couple is currently negotiating with several interested parties over the lump, which weighs about 3.5 pounds (1.57 kilograms).

How much could they get for their odoriferous beach find? According to the site, a chunk of whale vomit about twice the size of the new find was valued at almost US$170,000 (about 120,000 pounds). The present chunk is thought to be worth in the neighborhood of US$70,000 (nearly 50,000 pounds).

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Also called ambergris, "whale vomit" is manufactured in the digestive system of sperm whales. It helps loosen up anything that might be lodged there, so it can be expelled.

The final, expurgated product "feels like a rock hard rubber ball. Its texture is like wax, like a candle," Mr. Williams told Mirror Online. "When you touch it you get wax sticking to your fingers."

While trade in ambergris is still legal in the United Kingdom, in many other countries its sale is banned under various whale-protection initiatives, including the U.S. Endangered Species Act. A synthetic product, ambroxan, is now used in its place.

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Fortunately for the couple, they knew a bit about the value of whale vomit and suspected that's what they might be looking at. Instead of leaving the stinky rock to its own devices, they wrapped it up and carried it away for further study and valuation.

"If it is worth a lot of money," said Mr. Williams, "it will go a long way towards buying us a static caravan. It would be a dream come true."

This chunk of whale vomit was also found on a Lancashire beach, in 2013.

Few animals are as majestic and awe-inspiring as whales. Their sheer size, coupled with their underwater elegance, makes seeing just a hint of one breaking the ocean's surface a life goal for many of us. Among the more well-known of these glorious giants is the musical, acrobatic humpback. "This photo was taken in August off of the island of Vavau in the Kingdom of Tonga," says photographer Karim Iliya, "moments after this juvenile humpback whale took a sharp turn to avoid smashing into me. See more of his story in a

new episode

of

This Happened Here

on Discovery's new

Seeker network

.

"The babies are these curious clumsy little creatures that can fill you with so much joy that your heart feels like it will explode from your chest," Iliya said.

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Not every interaction is so calm and peaceful. When you swim with whales, sometimes you get a playful juvenile, but other times you can find yourself in the middle of an all out frenzy. This is what happened to Iliya after jumping into the water, not knowing battle-scarred adult male humpbacks were fighting over the right to mate with the lone female.

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"Four large male humpback whales emerged, two of them broke off and started smashing into each other blowing bubbles, tails whipping around," Iliya said. "They came closer and closer all the while fighting, a 5-meter-long tale whipped near my face, and the thought occurred to me that I would be pulverized between these two school bus sized animals."

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"Looking back on the images that I had taken I see that the whales were looking at me, even as they fought. It is a true testament to the gentleness of these giants that they would take the time and effort to avoid crushing this tiny little creature before them. "

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"The thing that I loved most about photographing humpback whales is the level of interaction that you have with them. They are highly intelligent creatures with distinct personalities and will convey a range of emotions and attitude like curiosity and playfulness, or even annoyance."

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