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This is ambergris.
It might look like a rock, but it's actually a rare kind of whale poop.
And it's not cheap.
Per gram, ambergris can cost more than silver, 30 times more.
If you've ever worn perfume, well I've got some unsettling news, you may have misted yourself with animal waste.
You see, for centuries, perfumers have been using ambergris to enhance their fragrances.
It's essentially a clump of squid beaks bound by a fatty secretion.
Over time, it balls up in the intestine of some sperm whales and eventually, out it goes.
Now, in the strictest sense, it's not technically poop but scientists think it exits the same way, if you catch my drift.
One way or another, a big boulder of ambergris is released into the ocean and it floats for decades, you know who knows how long?
And in that time, the mass transforms from a sticky dung-like substance into a hard gray chunk.
And this, believe it or not, is what perfumers covet.
For one, it contains a unique chemical that works as a fixative, which means it makes other smells in perfume last longer.
But ambergris is also valued for something incredibly surprising, apparently it smells good?
It's like a bouquet of 20 or 30 different chemical compounds, each have their own odor profile.
One will smell sort of like mushrooms, one will smell a little bit like tobacco, one smells like poop, one smells sort of like grass and hay.
Sounds great.
Well, apparently perfume designers use strong scents like those as the base note for their fragrances.
And base notes form the foundation of any perfume.
One company in particular has several expensive perfumes with base notes of ambergris.
Perfumes in this collection can sell for around $500 a bottle and are described as a passionate love letter in fragrant form.
And while ambergris has all the makings for a great perfume, what really drives up the price tag is simply how rare it is.
Scientists don't know exactly why, but only about 1% of sperm whales produce this substance.
In fact, researchers like Dr. Shane Gero, who spend years studying sperm whales, never end up seeing it.
I've been collecting sperm whale poo for 15, 16 years and I haven't ever collected anything that I was like aw, maybe this is a tiny little ambergris ball.
Sometimes, lucky beach-goers will stumble upon it.
In 2006, for example, a couple picked up a 32-pound piece on a beach in Australia.
Media outlets later reported that it could be worth nearly $300,000.
But more often, ambergris hunters will get to it first.
They track weather patterns and ocean currents to predict where it might end up, and once they find it, they sell it to brokers or perfumers for up to $7,200 a pound.
This is like gold to them, this is a real commodity so they take it very seriously, they can be a big aggressive, muscular.
And they really closely guard their secrets.
But the commodity's high price isn't the only reason they do it.
In some countries, like the U.S., buying, selling, or even collecting ambergris is illegal.
That's because sperm whales are an internationally threatened species.
Before whaling starting actively, both historical and modern whaling, there was over a million sperm whales.
And now we're down closer to a fifth of that.
And while no whales are harmed in the collection of ambergris, Gero says that it's never a good idea to buy or sell products from an endangered species.
But until we can replicate something that smells as good as that, mm, whale poop, people will probably keep buying and selling ambergris.
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Why Whale Poop Is So Expensive | So Expensive

694 Folder Collection
April Lu published on January 28, 2019    April Lu translated    Winnie Liao reviewed
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