Ambergris is one of the strangest, and rarest, materials on the planet; it is worth a minor fortune.
Sperm whales eat giant squid. That's a 5-word sentence that is worth an entire book, as it involves fights at ocean depths that would crush any man or woman to pulp (up to 1,000 metres – 3,280 feet – below the surface). The creatures involved are giants (up to 13m for the squid – 43 feet – & 18m – 60 feet – for the whales). Even the existence of “Giant Squid” could have been doubted since, until very recently, they had never been seen. However, too many Sperm whales bore the giant scars of squid suckers. Plus, from the days when Sperm whales were regularly hunted & opened up with long knives, the remains of those mythical beasts were found within the whale stomachs. Nevertheless, we must pass on.
Those squid are highly digestible apart from one feature: the beak, which is utterly indigestible.
Nobody has been able to trace the source of Ambergris with absolute certainty, but the current best guess is those squid. Or rather, those beaks. The whale hunters discovered that sperm whale stomachs could produce a greasy substance, and that that substance was in great profusion if the stomach contained lots of beaks. Putting it all together, therefore, Ambergris was thought to begin as Whale Vomit (it is now thought to first emerge from the other end, but no matter) and, after perhaps 50 years travelling the waves, to gradually harden into the yellow & black lumps such as that found by a dog-walker's dog in Anglesey.
The key feature of Ambergris is it's smell, which is normally described as “indescribable”. It sends dogs into a frenzy, and also the perfume industry (and hence most buyers are French). However, today's sale went to a UK bidder.
The sale was handled by Cheshire auction house Adam Partridge, and their spokesman Oliver Hancock said that the room in Macclesfield contained 50 people & 2 TV crews. In the end it was a two-way fight between a phone bidder and an internet bidder. The phone bidder got it.
--------- Alex Kemp