Properly known as ambergris, this ‘floating gold’ is actually the excretion of the sperm whale.
Their diet consists mainly of squid. The beaks of these marine creatures are sharp, impossible to digest and dangerous to pass. So the whale’s gut coats the unwanted matter with a fatty, waxy coating called ambrein.
After being safely expelled the ambergris floats on the tides, gradually losing its stinky gut smell and absorbing the aroma of the ocean. It is this facility to absorb and hold aroma that makes ambergris prized by perfumers, reaching up to $40,000 per kilogram. Floating gold!
Ambergris is rare and difficult to identify. But beware – in Australia is is listed as a whale bi-product which must be reported to the Department of Agriculture and the Environment.