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Whale of a Find: Academic’s Unexpected Discovery Could Fetch $544K for a Good Cause

Imagine walking along the beach, perhaps examining an unfortunate marine casualty, and stumbling upon a half-million-dollar treasure hidden inside. No, we’re not talking about a pirate’s chest of gold, but something far rarer and weirder – ambergris, a substance more commonly known as whale vomit.

This unlikely stroke of luck happened to Antonio Fernández, a professor at the University of Las Palmas. While inspecting a deceased sperm whale on Nogales beach in the Canary Islands, he found an immense lump of ambergris, weighing around 21 pounds and valued at approximately $544,000.

For the uninitiated, ambergris is a rare and prized secretion produced in the digestive systems of sperm whales, colloquially referred to as “floating gold” or “treasure of the sea.” This unique substance can be found in approximately one out of every 100 specimens and holds a significant place in the perfume industry thanks to its unique scent and scarcity.

Ambergris is believed to be a by-product of the sperm whale’s diet. When these giants of the deep feast on cephalopods like squid and octopus, they struggle to digest the beaks. The end result is either regurgitated or, as in this case, forms a waxy amalgam with other substances in the intestines.

Fernández described his moment of discovery to Canarias7. “What I took out was a stone about 50 to 60 cm in diameter weighing 9.5 kg,” he recalled. The beach crowd watched on as he emerged from the surf, but they remained blissfully unaware that he held a small fortune in his hands.

Tragically, it was this ambergris that caused the whale’s untimely demise. The valuable lump induced sepsis, according to Fernández, who is also the director of his university’s animal health and food safety institute.

In a benevolent twist, Fernández revealed his intentions to donate the ambergris to local authorities in La Palma, hoping to sell it to aid those impacted by a catastrophic volcanic eruption in 2021.

This isn’t the first time ambergris has transformed the fortunes of its finders. In 2021, a group of fishermen in the Gulf of Aden stumbled upon a chunk of ambergris worth a staggering $1.5 million. They sold it to a buyer from the United Arab Emirates and used the proceeds to buy houses, cars, and boats.

However, would-be ambergris hunters should take note: the substance’s trade is heavily regulated in several countries, including Australia and the US, due to concerns about exploitative whaling.

This remarkable tale of serendipity and altruism is a reminder that value can be found in the most unexpected places. While no business plan could reliably replicate Fernández’s good fortune, his story is an inspiration to all entrepreneurs and investors: sometimes, rewards aren’t just financial, but the opportunity to make a difference in the world.