What is ambergris, and why is it so valuable? Let's start
with the disturbing basics. This highly sought-after ingredient
for high-end perfumes starts out as a waxy excretion in the intestines
of sperm whales. Yes, you read that right.
Worse, it has been used in high-priced delicacies and in some
fancy cocktail drinks as well. Food designer Andrew Stellitano
used it in a $4,700 mince pie according to a recent article in
Bloomberg Businessweek. Most likely the substance that was eaten
as an ingredient in that pie was pooped out by a sperm whale
years before, and floated around the ocean until it washed up
on a beach and was discovered by an ambergris hunter.
Last summer a a lump of ambergris weighing about 80 pounds
washed up on a beach in New Zealand. It is rumored to have been
sold for $400,000 or more. Apparently there is always a market
for this substance, and it can sell for $20 a gram. That's almost
half the price of gold.
Now for the bad news; it may be illegal to harvest ambergris.
It isn't entirely clear if the prohibition on using products
from endangered animals extends to waste products which can be
collected without bothering the animal. It seems likely that
it is against the law, but the law is not being enforced (who
cares if you collect whale crap on the beach?).
Chanel No. 5 used to have ambergris in it, but no longer does.
Other perfume makers deny that they use it, but it isn't clear
if they might still use it some high-priced perfumes. In any
case, it is being used by someone, or there would not
be such an active market and such a high price for the substance.
This video shows you how to test
a sample you have found to see if it is ambergris. It also explains
why the price is dropping, making this kind of beach combing
How Much Can You Make?
It is likely that you will go a long time as an ambergris
hunter without making anything. You also might stumble upon a
$20,000 find one morning. The "industry" is a secretive
one, and estimating income potential is impossible.
Ways to Make More | Related Opportunities
You might try finding other things to sell while you are roaming
those beaches in search of whale-poop-treasure. Sea shells can
be sold to people who make homemade crafts or even bagged and
wholesaled to gift shops. Odd items which could have value also
wash up on beaches; watch for glass fishing floats, old furniture,
artistic-looking driftwood, interesting rocks and other things.
Qualifications / Requirements
You have to learn to identify ambergris. Apparently it is
not too easy. It has been said to smell like "scented cow
dung" when fresh. After floating in the sea for years or
decades, it is said to smell like tobacco, Brazil nuts, or the
wood in old churches.
Chris Kemp, one of the few experts on ambergris, says dog
feces, old whale blubber, eroded rubber, and rotting seagulls
have all been mistaken for the substance. He adds that many who
search it out don't even know it comes from the sperm whale's
intestines. It is apparently believed by many to be vomited up
by the animals.
Find someone in the business and talk him or her into being
an apprentice. This is not a profession you will learn from a
book or class. You will also have to carefully investigate to
see if it is legal to do this where you live.
Floating Gold: A Natural (and Unnatural) History of
Ambergris, by Chris Kemp; University of Chicago Press
2012 - This book, to be published in May of 2012, is by a neuroscientist
who spent many years investigating the ambergris business.
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