A fisherman couldn’t believe his luck after finding a lump of whale vomit floating off a beach in southern Thailand that could be worth nearly £1million.
Narong Phetcharaj, who usually earns around £200 a month from fishing, was returning to shore when he saw a strange object being pushed by currents at Niyom beach in Surat Thani province.
Upon closer inspection, he realised that the mass had the same waxy texture and appearance as whale vomit, so he dragged it away from the beach – believing his find could be worth some money.
Phetcharaj later took the object to experts at the Prince of Songkla University to have it tested – and the results proved that it was genuine ambergris.
With a weight of 66lb (30kg), the fisherman’s find could be worth as much as £1million based on previous prices as the whale vomit has sold for more than £35,000 per kilogram before.
Before the ambergris was tested at the university he examined the object first at home, imitating what he had seen on the news about the whale vomit. Phetcharaj burnt the shapeless lump with half of its side has grains like sand and the other a smooth surface before it started to melt
Ambergris: From a whale’s intestines to the world’
Ambergris – also often referred to as Whale Vomit or grey amber – is a solid, waxy, flammable and highly valuable substance produced in the digestive system of sperm whales.
It is used by perfumers as a fixative – something that equalises vapor pressures, and thus the volatilities, of the raw materials in a perfume oil, as well as to increase the tenacity of a scent.
For this reason, it has historically been highly sought after by perfumers, and played a part in the prosperity of the whaling industry from the 18th to the mid-19th century, which saw some 50,000 sperm whales killed each yet.
As a result, sperm whales – also hunted for their oil and bones – became an endangered species, leading to the International Whaling Commission imposing a moratorium on commercial whaling in 1982.
Many countries also ban the trade of ambergris as a way to discourage the illegal hunting and exploitation of whales – including Australia and the United States, although its trade is legal in the UK, France and Switzerland.
Fossilised evidence of the rare substance dates back 1.75 million years, and it is believed that humans have been using it for over 1,000 years.
Ambergris – or whale vomit – is considered a sea treasure and floating gold because of an odourless alcohol that is extracted to make a perfume’s scent last longer.
Phetcharaj said: ‘None of the villagers has ever seen or touched a real whale ambergris before that’s why everybody was happy.’
He kept the whale vomit wrapped in a towel for safety and hidden in a cardboard box before informing his relatives about the discovery.
Before the ambergris was tested at the university he examined the object first at home, imitating what he had seen on the news about the whale vomit.
Burning pieces of the lump seemed to confirm that the substance was indeed ambergris as it quickly melted.
Phetcharaj said: ‘I’m so excited I don’t know what to do. I plan to sell the ambergris as I’ve already received a certificate to prove that it’s real.
‘If I can get a good price, I’ll retire from working as a fisherman and throw a party for my friends.’
Ambergris is produced by sperm whales when bile ducts in the gastrointestinal tract make secretions to ease the passage of large or sharp objects. The whale then vomits the mucilage which solidifies and floats on the surface of the ocean.
The solid chunk has a foul smell at first but after the mucilage dries out, it develops a sweet and long-lasting fragrance, which makes it a sought-after ingredient in the perfume industry.
In February this year, thirty-five fishermen in Yemen were lifted out of poverty after unexpectedly finding £1.1million worth of whale vomit in the carcass of a sperm whale.
The lucky find was uncovered after a group of fishermen were alerted to a sperm whale carcass floating in the Gulf of Aden by a fisherman from Seriah.