Just imagine: You're strolling down the beach when you happen upon a lump of some kind of brownish, waxy substance. It turns out to be a chunk of whale vomit washed ashore, and that chunk is worth some $10,000.
This is roughly what happened to one unnamed man in Anglesey, Wales, who is now selling the chunk of vomit at auction later this month, according to Wales Online.
The substance, called ambergris, is produced inside sperm whales' bile ducts to protect their digestive lining from things like seashells or squid beaks. (Or, if you prefer Melville's description in Moby Dick, "an essence found in the inglorious bowels of a sick whale.") It's also used as an ingredient in some perfumes to create a "musky" scent. Most perfumers these days use synthetic versions, but some high-end perfumes still use it and it's valuable to have the real deal. Ambergris sells for about $20 per gram. Gold, by comparison, sells for roughly $30 per gram.
It's valuable, in part, because the odds of stumbling onto one of these lumps is rare. First, it has to come from a sperm whale. The whale would have to vomit a sizable amount of it, and then the lump of vomit would have to float on the sea for several years, until it would eventually wash ashore. Then, of course, someone has to find it, recognize what it is, and decide to sell it.
The chunk of ambergris found in Wales weighed just over a kilogram, or about two and a half pounds. The auction is scheduled for September 25 if you're interested.