Ken Wilman Finds Ambergris On Beach; Rare Chunk Of Sperm Whale 'Vomit' Worth Up To $180,000 (PHOTO)
An unemployed British man might soon be "stinking" rich after he found a 6-pound lump of ambergris on a Lancashire beach.
Ken Wilman was walking his dog along Morecambe beach when the canine became interested by what Wilman initially thought was a large, smelly rock.
"When I picked it up and smelled it, I put it back down again and I thought 'urgh'," Wilman told the BBC.
Little did he know that the big, stinky lump might fetch him a small fortune. Wilman rushed back to the beach after a web search revealed the identity of his find.
The rare, waxy substance is believed to originate in the digestive tracts of sperm whales. Ambergris is highly valued by perfumers as a fixative and can fetch tidy sums.
Although some perfumers use synthetic substitutes for ambergris, the real thing is very hard to come by. Chris Hill, curator at the Aquarium of the Lakes in Cumbria, valued Wilman's ambergris at up to $180,000.
“How much it’s worth will depend on how fresh it is," Hill told the Mirror. "There are places in Europe that will buy it from you. They will age it, like a fine wine, and then test it for perfume.”
A French dealer has reportedly offered Wilman $68,000 for the lump of ambergris. While that's a lot of money to come across by chance, Wilman isn't the only person to have struck it rich on ambergris recently.
Last year, an 8-year-old boy in England found a lump of ambergris worth $65,000 while he was walking on the beach with his father, ABC News reported at the time.
In 2006, a married couple strolling on a beach in South Africa found a lump of ambergris worth $295,000.
In 2011, Maori beachcombers in New Zealand found an 88-pound cache of ambergris worth $400,000, an amount "equivalent to [New Zealand's] normal total annual export of the substance" according to Stuff.co.nz.
Given that finds can be so lucrative, it isn't surprising that some people who style themselves professional beachcombers hunt down the whale secretion for a living.
Although that might sound like a strange career choice, it's far less distasteful than how ambergris used to be harvested. According to i09, ambergris "was one of the reasons sperm whale hunting was such a profitable activity."
In 1982, the International Whaling Commission placed a moratorium on the hunting of whales, although some activists insist that whales still aren't safe.
"Whilst whaling is much reduced, these beautiful creatures are losing ground to a whole plethora of destructive issues, including over-fishing and drowning in nets, pollution, habitat destruction and climate change," conservationist Dylan Walker told the BBC in 2012.