A STINKING, solidified lump of gunk from the gut of a sperm whale could make an Australian family up to $1 million richer.
The 14.75kg block of rare whale excreta, expelled orally, was found by the family on a beach near Streaky Bay on South Australia's west coast.
They were baffled by the substance before inquiries revealed it to be ambergris - a wax-like substance originating from the intestine of a sperm whale, and greatly prized for its use in perfume.
Marine ecology consultant Ken Jury, who is representing the family, said ambergris was worth $US20-$US65 a gram ($27-$87). Mr Jury said ambergris was belched from a sperm whale as a foul-smelling substance.
"It's actually belched out by the animal, would you believe, and those few across the world that have witnessed that or heard it say it's quite remarkable," Mr Jury told ABC radio.
"When a whale does that, particularly a big sperm whale, apparently the sound of it travels for miles across the water."
Mr Jury said the finding was rare. "When the whale throws this out, it's discarded material that it can't digest and includes all sorts of things like hundreds of squid beaks and goodness knows what," he said. "The substance is actually lighter than water and so it floats around the ocean.
"If you were to pick it up immediately after the whale discarded it, you would immediately put it back because it is so foul.
"However, over a period of floating around the ocean for 10 years, the sun and the salt water cleanses this amazing stuff. After 10 years, it's considered clean and all you are getting then is the wonderful musty, very sweet perfume which I have got to say is ultra-smooth.
"You can trace it back to 1000 BC. The Egyptians used it, the Chinese did - they not only used it as perfumes but they used to eat it and they used to give it as gifts. It was literally worth more than gold."
Ambergris has been used as a fixative for fine perfumes, for medicinal purposes and also as an aphrodisiac. It also has been used to enhance the flavours of food and wine, and for herbal and homeopathic remedies.
- Time for me to start up a whale farm i think.