Getting kids outside is one of my passions, but I never dreamed it could make them rich!
Eight-year-old Charlie Naysmith, of Christchurch, England, was walking on the beach at nearly Hengistbury Head, in the county of Dorset, England, this week, when he found a waxy-looking rock and decided to take it home. That’s when he and his dad discovered that Charlie’s find was ambergris, and could be worth between $16,000 and $63,000, the Daily Echo of Southampton, England, reported Thursday.
From the BBC:
He said that when he first found it he thought it was a “normal stone”.
But after looking it up on the internet with his father, Alex, they discovered that it was likely to be a rare form of vomit from a sperm whale.
Ambergris is found in the innards of the sperm whale and used in perfumes after it has been vomited up.
It is sought after because of its rarity and can float on the ocean for years before washing ashore.
Actually, it appears there is some disagreement as to exactly what ambergris is. While the BBC declares it to be vomit, other sources describe it as feces.
Which is it? Here’s a dictionary definition:
Ambergris, a highly odorous, waxy substance found floating in tropical seas, is a secretion from the sperm whale (Physeter catodon). The whale secretes ambergris to protect its stomach from the sharp bone of the cuttlefish, a squid-like sea mollusk, which it ingests. Ambergris is used in perfumery as a fixature to extend the life of a perfume and as a flavoring for food and beverages.
So it’s a secretion within the intestines of the whale, but who can tell whether it is vomit or feces? I guess you would have to be there.
More importantly for Charlie, ambergris can fetch a whole lot of money. That’s because it is extremely rare and also crucial for the production of perfume. “One drop of ambergris can change a perfume,” Claire Payne, an aroma therapist and perfumer told ABC News. “It’s what we call an animalic smell, different to the citrusy or fruity scents. It’s like musk, and we use it in several of our fragrances,” she added.
Ambergris has been mythologised for thousands of years and is often referred to as “floating gold” by scientists and those who search for a windfall amid the surf.
I spent a week walking the beaches of Dorset last summer, but found only jellyfish, seaweed, some shells and occasionally a fossil. But Charlie is one lucky boy. You can click here to see his happy face!
The best part of the story is that Charlie wants to use the money from his lucky find to build some kind of animal shelter. He has a club at school that he started to look after animals, and he’ll put his winnings into expanding that.
A final note: possession of ambergris has been illegal in the U.S. since 1972 because it comes from endangered sperm whales, but the Naysmiths are still free to sell their find.
Now I think I’ll go for a walk on the beach!
Photo Credit: Peter Kaminski