Fishermen accidentally got rich by 472 million thanks to sperm whales (5 photos)

27 May 2024

From time to time, information pops up in news feeds about how people find a certain substance secreted by sperm whales, sell it to slick resellers and become millionaires overnight. What is it?

Ambergris has attracted attention since ancient times. Early Chinese sources claim that ambergris is nothing more than the hardened saliva of real dragons. The legendary physician Avicenna believed that the substance was released at the bottom of the ocean from special “fountains”.

But how do people who discover ambergris get rich so quickly in our time? Let's find out!

What is the real value of ambergris?

Some evidence suggests that ambergris appears in one in a hundred individuals.

So, in the simplest terms, ambergris is a product that is released from the body of a whale when the mucous membrane of its intestinal tract is irritated. Roughly speaking, “sperm whale vomit.” At the same time, experts still do not know whether this is a pathology of the giants’ organisms or a completely normal phenomenon for them.

Ambergris is small pieces weighing from several grams to tens of kilograms. In nature, this substance does not have the most pleasant odor, especially when it has recently been rejected by an animal.

It has been proven that the main beneficial property of ambergris is that it can act as a natural odor fixative in perfumery. In other words, this substance does not allow the fragrance to evaporate from human skin immediately after application.

In the Middle Ages, ambergris was credited with almost universal medicinal properties and was recommended to be used in various forms for headaches, asthma, epilepsy, and even for the treatment of erectile dysfunction. Photo: Ecomare (

Currently, the chemical industry has synthesized analogues, but natural ambergris continues to be highly valued.

The most active collectors of the substance are found in the coastal zones of Brazil, Madagascar, Japan, India, China, Australia and New Zealand. Sometimes ambergris is called "gray amber".

Nothing personal just business!

The business of selling ambergris itself seems semi-legal to many. And there are very good reasons for this.

Resellers of “sea gold” do not say anything about their sales channels, and the world’s largest perfume manufacturers claim that they have been using synthetic substitutes in their production for a long time. Moreover, in countries such as the USA and India, you can get a real prison term for collecting ambergris - it is illegal there.

However, there is an opinion that ambergris continues to be used in ultra-expensive exclusive perfume products.

Gray amber mainly helps to fix softer fragrances in fragrances, significantly prolonging their duration.

Apart from the case of Yemeni fishermen, which we will talk about at the end of the article, major ambergris finds are happening all over the world.

A woman in New Zealand, while walking her dog, discovered a clot weighing half a kilogram on the shore. This small piece allowed her to later earn as much as 20 thousand New Zealand dollars (more than 10 thousand dollars).

The case in Thailand was also actively discussed on the Internet. There, a fisherman found sperm whale vomit weighing 3.5 kilograms on the beach and became rich by 130 thousand dollars.

Often a find can cause controversy and even open hostility between people. So two families on the island of Hulhumale (Maldives) cannot divide a 2 kilogram clot between themselves. Allegedly, he was first found by a child, and then other adults took him away. Local police intervened in the conflict, the parties want to seek justice from the court.

Millionaires from Yemen

Average salary in Yemen in 2023 was $120

A group of Yemeni fishermen discovered a huge clot weighing about 127 kilograms in the whale carcass. After some debate, people decided to divide the possible profits between all participants in the “big fishing”.

Before the sale, the ambergris was stored in a separate barn in the village and guarded around the clock. Soon a buyer was found who purchased the “sea gold” for 1.3 billion local rials, fantastic for ordinary Yemenis - approximately 450 thousand dollars.

The direct catchers of the giant (about 90 thousand dollars each) and those who transported, cut up, and protected the whale and ambergris received their share.

There are not so many professional ambergris seekers in the world and, in most cases, its discovery is a happy accident (a few more lucky ones were lucky, which we will talk about below). At the same time, the market price of the substance varies between 7-15 thousand dollars per kilogram.

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