Finding a valuable piece inside the sperm whale’s stomach
The piece inside the sperm whale’s stomach: A large piece of ambergris, known as “floating gold”, was discovered lodged inside a sperm whale that had washed up on the shores of La Palma, a Spanish island.
Scientists believe that the whale’s intestine was ruptured by the ambergris, which caused its death and eventual beaching. Ambergris is a waxy substance secreted by sperm whales when they swallow indigestible material such as squid beaks.
It is highly valued for its use in perfumes and can sell for thousands of dollars per pound. The chunk found in the Canary Islands weighed about 21 pounds (9.5 kilograms) and could sell for approximately $550,000, according to The Guardian, which first reported the story.
Antonio Fernández Rodríguez, an animal health researcher at the University of Las Palmas, was examining the washed-up whale’s carcass in an attempt to determine the cause of its death when he found a piece of something lodged in the whale’s intestine, as reported by The Guardian.
The ambergris appears to have ruptured the whale’s intestine, leading to its death and eventual beaching. Only 1% to 5% of sperm whales (Physeter macrocephalus) are found with ambergris, which is a secretion from the bile duct believed to coat indigestible objects the animal has consumed. Normally, whales regurgitate these objects, but when they don’t, the ambergris helps protect the whale’s organs from the sharp material.
This rare substance has been used in perfume-making for hundreds of years because it can help a scent stick to a person’s skin. While synthetic alternatives to ambergris have been developed, some companies still use it for certain fragrances.
Sperm whales were one of the most sought-after species in the historical whaling industry, and overhunting caused their population to plummet.
While the global sperm whale population seems to have stabilized since the decline of whaling in the late 20th century, the species is still considered vulnerable. Sperm whales are given the highest level of protection under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, an international treaty that prohibits the sale of various threatened species and their parts.
However, because ambergris is considered an animal waste product, it is not covered by the treaty and is legal to trade in many countries. Nevertheless, it is banned from sale and ownership in the United States because it is part of a protected animal.