A dead sperm whale was recently discovered on the shores of La Palma, an isle part of the Canary Islands. Little did anyone expect that a valuable treasure lay concealed within its digestive system.
Due to rough ocean conditions and a tide that was steadily advancing, conducting a thorough examination of the deceased whale proved to be quite challenging. Nevertheless, Antonio Fernández Rodríguez, the head of the Institute of Animal Health and Food Security at the University of Las Palmas, remained resolute in his determination to unravel the mystery behind the whale’s death.
With suspicions of a digestive issue, he carefully examined the whale’s colon and noticed a solid object adhered to that part of the intestine.
“What I took out was a stone about 50-60cm in diameter weighing 9.5kg,” he said. “The waves were washing over the whale. Everyone was watching when I returned to the beach, but they didn’t know that what I had in my hands was ambergris.”
Ambergris, also referred to as “Floating Gold,” worth half a million found in whale’s intestines
The solid lump that Fernández grasped in his palm possessed an estimated value of approximately half a million dollars ($500,000). It was actually ambergris, also known as ‘floating gold,’ which has been the ultimate desire of perfumers, reported The Guardian.
What an incredible photograph. Gulliver would be proud. Academics inspecting a dead sperm whale in Las Palmas. An autopsy found a 9.5kg lump of Ambergris in its colon, worth £500,000
Photograph: Universidad de Las Palmas de Gran Canaria.
Source: Stuart White pic.twitter.com/m06M1cnhC7
— Johnno Maxwell (@MaxMaxWriter) July 4, 2023
The mystery surrounding the origin of ambergris, which is created by roughly one out of every one hundred sperm whales, remained unsolved until the advent of large-scale whaling in the early 19th century.
Sperm whales consume substantial quantities of squid and cuttlefish, most of which cannot be fully digested and are subsequently expelled. However, a portion lingers and gradually combines within the whale’s intestinal tract, eventually solidifying into ambergris.
Ambergris is occasionally expelled from the whale’s body, which is why it is frequently discovered floating in the sea. However, in certain instances, such as with the whale in La Palma, the ambergris grows to such a size that it causes the whale’s intestine to rupture, leading to the whale’s death.
Trade in ambergris is banned
As part of their efforts to prohibit the hunting and exploitation of whales, the United States, Australia, and India have implemented a ban on the trade of ambergris.
Fernández, who has conducted autopsies on over a thousand whales, revealed that the whale’s death was caused by sepsis resulting from the presence of ambergris.
The institute is currently seeking a potential buyer for the valuable substance. Fernández expressed hope that the proceeds from its sale could contribute to assisting the victims affected by the volcanic eruption that occurred in La Palma in 2021.