Whales barf...and they sell it too! ~ Learn Spanish language fast | free memory tricks | Spanish vocabulary lessons.
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Friday, August 24, 2007

Whales barf...and they sell it too!


We truly live in a world of strange or, at least, overrated events occurring every other moment around us. So much so, that even a lowly blob of vomit (vómito) makes for sensational headlines! So what if it’s a whale’s? Isn’t it still a trash thrown up by an animal like us all? Why go so hysterical about it? Well you do so when your puke sells for $300 an ounce!


So whales (las ballenas) puke. Just like all of us. And they sell it too! It happened so that this lucky Latina, Dorothy Ferreira, 67, just received a 4-pound doozy from her 82-year-old sister in Waterloo, Iowa. The ugly box had no receipt and contained a gnarled, funky, wax-like blob that looked, well, ugly.

“I called my sister and asked her, ‘What the heck did you send me?’ ” Recalled Ms. Ferreira, who has lived here on the eastern tip of Long Island since 1982. “She said: ‘I don’t know, but I found it on the beach in Montauk 50 years ago and just kept it around. You’re the one who lives by the ocean; ask someone out there what it is.’ ”

So Ms. Ferreira called the Town of East Hampton’s department of natural resources, which dispatched an old salt from Montauk named Walter Galcik.

Mr. Galcik, 80, concluded that the mysterious gift might be ambergris, the storied substance created in the intestines of a sperm whale and spewed into the ocean. Also called whale’s pearl or floating gold, ambergris is a rare and often valuable ingredient in fine perfumes.

“He told me, ‘Don’t let this out of your sight,’ ” Ms. Ferreira said. She was soon summoned to show the thing at a town board meeting, after which a story in The Independent, a local newspaper, declared Ms. Ferreira the proud new owner of “heirloom whale barf.” Friends and neighbors flocked to her tchotchke-filled cottage overlooking Fort Pond Bay, the very shores where her sister, Ruth Carpenter, said she found the object in the mid-1950s.

Childless and never married, Ms. Ferreira bounced from job to job, most recently as a short-order cook at a local deli, and now lives on her Social Security income. “If it really does have value, I’m not silly, of course I’d want to sell it,” Ms. Ferreira said as she looked out past her lace curtains and picket fence at the whitecaps on the bay. “This could be my retirement.”

After researching ambergris on the Internet, Ms. Ferreira’s neighbor, Joe Luiksic, advised, “Put it on eBay.” But endangered species legislation has made buying or selling the stuff illegal since the 1970s; a couple who found a large lump of ambergris valued at almost $300,000 on an Australian beach in January has had legal problems selling it.

“If I get locked up, will you bail me out?” Ms. Ferreira asked her friends.

Ambergris begins as a wax-like substance secreted in the intestines of some sperm whales, perhaps to protect the whale from the hard, indigestible “beaks” of giant squid it feeds upon. The whales expel the blobs, dark and foul-smelling, to float the ocean. After much seasoning by waves, wind, salt and sun, they may wash up as solid, fragrant chunks.

Because ambergris varies widely in color, shape and texture, identification falls to those who have handled it before, a group that in a post-whaling age is very small. Ms. Ferreira says she has yet to find an ambergris expert.

Adrienne Beuse, an ambergris dealer in New Zealand, said in a telephone interview that good-quality ambergris can be sold for up to $10 per gram, adding that for the finest grades, “the sky’s the limit.”

At $10 per gram, Ms. Ferreira’s chunk, according to a neighbor’s kitchen scale, would have a value of $18,000. “The only way to positively identify ambergris is to have experience handling and smelling it, and very few people in the world have that,” Ms. Beuse said. “Certainly, if she has it, it’s like winning a mini-lottery.”

“The older folks would always tell us, ‘Keep your eyes open for that whale vomit because it’ll pay your way through college,’ ” Larry Penny, 71, director of East Hampton’s natural resources department, recalls. “We used to bring home anything that we thought looked like it, but it never turned out to be ambergris. The average person today could trip over it on the beach and never know what it was.”

Ambergris has been a valued commodity for centuries, used in perfume because of its strangely alluring aroma as well as its ability to retain other fine-fragrance ingredients and fix a scent so it does not evaporate quickly. Its name is derived from the French ambre gris, or gray amber. During the Renaissance, ambergris was molded, dried, decorated and worn as jewelry. It has been an aphrodisiac, a restorative balm, and a spice for food and wine. Arabs used it as heart and brain medicine. The Chinese called it lung sien hiang, or “dragon’s spittle fragrance.” It has been the object of high-seas treachery and caused countries to enact maritime possession laws and laws banning whale hunting. Madame du Barry supposedly washed herself with it to make herself irresistible to Louis XV.

“We always heard about it, but I don’t remember finding any,” recalled Encie Babcock, 95, of Sag Harbor, whose great-uncle Henry Babcock was captain of a whaling ship in the 1800s.

Mrs. Carpenter, Ms. Ferreira’s sister, said she was about 30 years old, beachcombing with her dog in front of the family house, when she spied the object and “and just liked the way it looked, so I kept it.” After moving with her husband to Iowa, Mrs. Carpenter kept the waxy hunk in a box in her bedroom closet.

“Anytime we had houseguests, I’d take it out and ask them if they knew what it was,” she said. “Of course they didn’t. This is Iowa.” She sent it to her sister, Mrs. Carpenter said, because “I’m not feeling too good, and I don’t have much time left.”

Cited from The New York Times.

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Wow, I hope for her sake that it is what they think it is and that she can sell it and live a nice retirement!

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Ambergris was once a highly valuable commodity- even as disgusting as it may sound. I'm not sure how much used it is today, though.

You may recall it's mention when the young sailor in 'Master and Commander: Far Side of the World' was speculating on what riches that the Acheron's hold might produce

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wow..so great!Ambergris is, in simple terms, whale vomit. More accurately, it is bile that aids in a sperm whale’s digestion. Occasionally the sperm whale will belch or “puke” this bile out of its system along with indigestible items like squid beaks and hubcaps. Sperm whale vomit is the only type of whale vomit that can become ambergris.

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