'Gold' worth $543,000 found in dead whale on Canary Islands shore
Ambergris, a rare substance often known as floating gold, is and has been the treasure of perfumers for centuries, and the one Fernández found was worth about €500,000 ($543,442).
After a sperm whale was found washed up dead on a beach in the Canary Island of Las Palmas in Spain, the head of the Institute of Animal Health and Food Security at the University of Las Palmas, Antonio Fernández Rodríguez, decided to investigate, and little did he know that he would find treasure.
Upon suspecting the cause of death to be digestive, the whale's colon was inspected and something hard was found stuck to the intestine.
“What I took out was a stone about 50-60cm in diameter weighing 9.5kg,” he said, adding, “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.”
The rare substance, often known as floating gold, ambergris has been the treasure of perfumers for centuries, and the one Fernández found was worth about €500,000 ($543,442). With its woody scent similar to sandalwood, it contains ambrein, which is an odorless alcohol able to extend the life of scents, making it more desirable to the fragrance industry.
The US, Australia, and India have banned the ambergris trade as part of a ban on the hunting and exploitation of whales.
Produced by about one in 100 sperm whales, ambergris is the product of a whale eating large quantities of squid and cuttlefish, and the remains that are not vomited out bind together in the whale’s intestines to form ambergris.
However, it is sometimes excreted, which explains why it can be found commonly floating in the sea, but if it grows too large, just like the one in Las Palmas, it can rupture the intestine and kill the whale.
Fernández stated that his institute is looking for a potential buyer, with hopes that the profit would go toward helping victims of the volcano that erupted on the island in 2021, causing more than €800 million ($869 million) in damage.
“The law is different in every country,” Fernández said. “In our case, I hope the money will go to the island of La Palma, where the whale ran aground and died.”