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It’s no longer in the belly of the beast.
A fishing crew working off the coast of Yemen landed a rare, 280-pound chunk of whale vomit — a catch valued at around $1.5 million.
A 35-person fishing crew captured a sperm whale’s carcass while fishing in the Gulf of Aden. Due to the overpowering scent of fecal matter, they determined that the corpse likely contained what’s known as ambergris.
The pungent, waxy substance is produced in the intestines of sperm whales. Ironically, it’s historically been used in perfumes, as it contains an odorless alcohol that makes fragrances last longer. But ambergris is so rare, and therefore extremely valuable, that perfumers now usually use synthetic replicas of the naturally occurring alcohol.
When the crew cut into the belly of the whale, they uncovered a big chunk of the “floating gold.” The men sold the odorous glob off to someone in the United Arab Emirates for $1.5 million.
The fishermen split the profits equally and donated a portion of their fortune to poor families in their community. The spoils of their valuable find lifted the crew out of poverty, with several crew members purchasing new homes, cars and boats.
Yemen is one of the poorest countries in the world due to years of conflict, and many families survive through the fishing industry.
“It was an unimaginable price,” one of the men told the BBC of their yield. “We are all poor. We never expected this thing would give us such a huge amount.”
Beyond fragrances, in Eastern cultures, ambergris is used as a spice in medicines and potions. And it’s now illegal in the US. Although whales are not typically harmed in the collection of the regurgitation, the flammable substance is outlawed because it is produced by an endangered species, according to National Geographic. The magazine noted that, although scientists have not determined the exact origins of ambergris, it’s thought that it develops when sperm whales eat irritants, such as a beak, and produce a slippery substance to protect digestive organs from the offending particles.
The “treasure of the sea” is most commonly found by happenstance. In January, a 15-pound piece of ambergris — worth an estimated $230,000 — floated to shore in Thailand.
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