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How do you know if it is ambergris?

 

You find a lump of somethig that looks unpleasant on the beach.

Could it be ambergris??!!

Could you have found a fortune??

 

This quick guide will help you know

#if it is worth taking that disgusting lump

home with you or not...

A bowl of ambergris. If you find (what you hope is) ambergris, avoid putting it in an airless plastic bag or box. Let it breathe!

Photo by Peter Kaminski, Wikicommons

 

 

Does it have small beaks in it?

Does your dog LOVE the smell of it?
Does it melt?

 

If you can answer yes to all, or most, of these questions, chances are that it is worth getting it tested! You might be rich!

 

BUT

 

It is not that simple! Even if you tick yes to all those questions it might not be ambergris. And you might find ambergris that your dog hates and that has no beaks.

 

Have a look at these key characteristics...

 

 

COLOUR

 

When ambergris is first excreted from the whale it is black. As it floats on the ocean surface, the sun changes its colour from black to brown to grey to white - or streaky combinations of each.

 

 

SMELL

 

Wouldn't life be simple if ambergris, as a key component in perfume, smelt like Chanel No. 5? Alas, this is far from being the case.

 

It is said that ambergris has a very distinctive smell. But when you ask the few people who have actually smelt it what it smells like, it is very difficult to pin it down. 'Animalistic', 'faecal', 'marine', 'sweet', 'musky', 'pleasant', 'strong', and 'gross' are all words that have been used. A likely story is that, as it is poop, fresh ambergris smells like animal poo - in a big way. As it floats on sea waters, the faecal smell fades and is replaced by the smells of the sea.

 

DOGS

It is said that dogs love the smell of ambergris but, not wanting to cast aspertions on the refinements of dogs' taste, maybe they prefer it when it is in its faecal stage than when it has mellowed?

 

 

Pale ambergris suggests it has been in the water a long time. And it is more valuable than fresher, dark ambergris

Photo by Garry McPhail

SHAPE

Being poop, ambergris can be poop-like in shape (I do hope you are not eating your breakfast while you are reading this) and further rounding can take place as it is carried by the seas. By this logic, something that is very angular is not likely to be ambergris although bits can break off and thus be less rounded.

 

TEXTURE

As ambergris gets older, it becomes waxier which is a shame because there are lots of waxy things in the sea - palm oil, candles, surf wax, paraffin wax etc. - with which it can be confused. Ambergris, however, can have develop a distinctive soft white crust over its waxiness which sets it apart. It is also generally grainier and coarser in terms of texture than surf wax and that type of thing.

 

SQUID BEAKS

A favourite food of sperm whales - the producers of ambergris - is squid. And, while squid look like soft squishy beings, they ddo have have bird-like beaks. It is though that maybe sperm whales create these lumps of ambergris to protect their digestive systems from the sharp beaks. it is this common to find beaks in ambergris. Mind you who wants to break up their large (and thus potentially valuable) chunk of ambergris to see if it has squid beaks in it, thus making it potentially less valuable?

 

 

The sight of a squid beak can be good news!

Photo by Garry McPhail

 

HOT NEEDLE TEST

 

Ambergris is soluable in ether, but an easier test is the hot needle test.

 

If you heat up a needle (without burning your fingers or setting the house on fire), and lay it on your suspected piece of ambergris, you want it to melt the surface of it. 

Ambergris can be very very dark.

Photo credit: Ecomare, CC BY-SA 4.0

 

 

 

BE SURE

 

The only way to be sure that that stinking, unpleasant-looking lump of goop you are insisting on keeping in pride of place in the house realy is ambergris, is to get it tested by a reputable company.

 

If you type 'ambergris testing' or something similar into a search engine, some companies will pop up who can do this. Make sure you know what their credentials (and their fees!) are before you go ahead.

 

 

THE NEXT STEP

 

Tell us about it! We'd love you hear about your finds.

 

hello@beachstuff.uk

 

 

 

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