Unidentified Floating Objects
February 11, 2013
– The World's Oceans
This hunk of smelly puke could fetch upward of $70,000 for Brit Ken Wilman.
© 2014 CTV-News
So it turns out King Neptune has a super lotto of his own. Who knew?
We’re talking about the guy who found a handbag-size lump of ambergris on a British beach last month, for which he’s been offered $68,000. And the kid last year who found a chunk worth $65,000 on another English beach. Or the Australian couple who, a few years ago, found a 32-lb lump worth almost $300,000.
Ambergris is a hard waxy-like substance either coughed up or pooped out — scientists aren’t sure — by sperm whales. The stuff has been highly prized for centuries for its aromatic properties. And we do mean highly. In the old days, a returning whaling captain could retire off a decent size blob of it.
Ambergris gets to those beaches by floating there. It floats low, sometimes just below the surface, which would make it hard to spot. But it never gets waterlogged and sinks. Whale experts estimate there are tons of it bobbing around the world’s oceans. So some of it has been out there for decades.
And people occasionally find it out there. We couldn’t locate any references to finds by yachts or other modern craft. But there are plenty of stories from the days of yore. In one close to home, in the early 1900s, a lumber schooner plucked a 75-lb chunk out of the ocean near Mendocino. Today, that chunk could be worth $700,000.
But just like the super lotto, the odds that a cruiser or daysailor might stumble across some are astronomical. Ambergris comes only from sperm whales, and only 1% of them are thought to produce it during their lives. (It may be a coating that allows irritants like squid beaks to pass easier.) Even during the heyday of whaling in the 19th century, many ships and crews went their whole careers and never found any. And they made a point of checking every sperm whale they caught.
Then again, somebody does win the lottery every week. Right?
Have any of you found ambergris afloat, or know anyone who has? If so, we would love to know about it. Please email with details.
We’ll have more on this subject in the next issue, including a clue that might help you spot ambergris, and a quick method to identify, and even ‘grade’, your find.
Until then, keep a sharp eye out. That UFO sliding past the rail might very well be the remains of the dead animal that it resembles. On the other hand, it might be a lump of something worth more than your boat.
- latitude / jr