Monday, December 18, 2006

Please Let It Be Whale Vomit...

Dorothy Ferreira of Montauk, New York recently received an intriguing gift from her 82-year-old sister in Waterloo, Iowa: a greenish, waxy blob discovered on the beach in Long Island some 50 years ago. No one has been able to positively identify the object, but it is suspected to be ambergris - an almost mythical substance produced in the digestive system of sperm whales. Most commonly used in perfumes, ambergris is also considered an aphrodisiac and is used in homeopathic medicines. It has been mentioned in literature and film from Moby Dick and Don Quixote to Hannibal and an episode of Futurama. Most recently, it was a central element of Matthew Barney's Drawing Restraint 9.

If Ms. Ferreira's object is indeed petrified whale vomit, it may be worth around $18,000. Even so, ambergris is illegal to buy or sell in the United States due to endangered species legislation, and there are only a handful of specialists in the world qualified to identify it.

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