May 27 – What is ambergris?

May 27, 2017 | Author: | Posted in Zoology

Ambergris (pronounced am-ber-grees) is derived from French ambre gris and literally signifies “gray amber.” Ambergris is a solid, fatty, wax-like substance produced in the intestines of whales. It occurs only in the sperm whale (cachalot) and is believed to be caused in some way by the beaks of cuttlefish that are often found in it. Cuttlefish and squids form the chief food of the sperm whale. One theory is that ambergris is never found in healthy whales and is a morbid secretion of the intestines or liver of sick whales. Although disagreeable to both sight and touch, ambergris even in the crude state exhales a pleasant, earthy fragrance faintly resembling that of sealing wax. In color it ranges from light to dark gray and is variegated like marble. Next to choice pearls, ambergris is the most valuable product by weight taken from the sea. At present green ambergris is worth from six to twelve dollars an ounce, depending on its quality and the amount of impurities. Dry ambergris has a wholesale value of twelve to thirty dollars an ounce. Formerly it was widely used as a medicine, but its efficacy was purely imaginary. It was also used in the Orient as an incense. Now the use of ambergris is limited almost entirely to the perfume industry, in which it is employed as a fixative to make odor essences retain their fragrance. No satisfactory substitute has been discovered for this purpose. Although it is a rare substance, occasionally large pieces weighing as much as a hundred pounds are found. There are authentic records of lumps that weighed as much as a hundred and fifty pounds. Sometimes it is taken from whales directly, but more frequently it is found floating on the waters in tropical seas, or cast upon beaches in lumps.

 

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