Ambergris, the result of the digestion of squid by sperm whales, aged upon the surface of the oceans, is found by beachcombers or removed from a dead whale's rectum by whalers. The largest chunk found weighed almost 500 kilograms; the smallest are pebble-sized. The current price (2012) is about USD$9 to $20 per gram.
A New Zealand dealer in ambergris has a page that distinguishes ambergris from other substances found on beaches. They also provide a form for buying and selling ambergris through them.
A. D. Baynes-Cope.
Analyses of samples of ambergris.
Nature (letters), vol 193, pages 978 - 979 (10 March 1962).
The origin of ambergris.
Latin American Journal of Aquatic Mammals, vol 5, no 1, pages 7-21 (June 2006).
A great haul of ambergris.
Nature, vol 174, issue 4421, pages 155-156 (1954).
Floating gold. A natural (and unnatural) history of ambergris.
Chicago: Univ. of Chicago, 2012.
And see his article, “Heaven scent,” in the 15 September 2012 issue of New Scientist.
The fragrance of ambergris.
E. T. Theimer, ed.
Fragrance chemistry: the science of the sense of smell.
New York: Academic Press, 1982.
It occurs upon the coasts of Coromandel, Japan, the Moluccas, and Madagascar, and has sometimes been extracted from the rectum of whales in the South Sea fishery. It has a gray-white colour, often with a black streak, or is marbled, yellow and black; has a strong but rather agreeable smell, a fatty taste, is lighter than water, melts at 60° C. (140°F), dissolves readily in absolute alcohol, in ether, and in both fat and volatile oils. It contains 85% of the fragrant substance called ambreine. This is extracted from ambergris by digestion with alcohol of 0.827, filtering the solution, and leaving it to spontaneous evaporation. It is thus obtained in the form of delicate white tufts: which are convertible into ambreic acid by the action of nitric acid. Ambergris is used in perfumery.
Andrew Ure, M.D.
A Dictionary of Arts, Manufactures and Mines...
London: Longman, Orme, Brown, Green and Longmans, 1839.
Some little excitement has been recently caused among perfume dealers by the appearance of another “monster” lump of ambergris upon the market. It was received in a recent consignment from Fiji, and measures 32 inches in circumference at its widest part, weighing 284 ounces. The bulk of the piece is of a gray color, but it contains three “hearts” of a fine pale silver-gray, which form its most valuable portion. It is valued at £1350 sterling.
Bulletin of Pharmacy, vol. 9 no 12, page 567 (December 1895).
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