Three fisherman from Oman, a nation on the Arabian Peninsula, are on the verge of retirement. And it's all thanks to a chance discovery of what's likely a record-breaking piece of sperm whale vomit.
While fishing off the northeastern coast of Oman, the men came across a floating mass of ambergris — an extremely rare and highly valuable waxy substance produced by sperm whales. Weighing in at more than 176 pounds, it's estimated that the lucky catch could be worth $3 million.
"We used a rope to collect it and carry it inside the boat. I was told earlier that ambergris has an icky smell, but after a couple of days it imparts a pleasant scent. We rushed back to the beach with joy and happiness," Khalid Al Sinani, one of the fishermen, told The Times of Oman.
So what exactly is ambergris? According to MNN's Bryan Nelson, you can think of it as a kind of a whale hairball.
"Sperm whales generate it in their intestines as a way to protect their bowels from indigestible sharp objects that occasionally get swallowed, such as giant squid beaks. It gets passed as excrement along with the rest of the animal's feces, or occasionally gets vomited back up if it causes a blockage — kind of like a sperm whale hairball."
Once expelled, ambergris floats as a kind of white waxy blob. Initially, it smells like the unappealing inside of a whale's digestive tract. After months to years of exposure to light and ocean oxidation, it darkens in color and takes on an odor described as sweet, earthy and marine.
This unique scent makes ambergris a highly sought after substance for use in high-end perfumes. While illegal for use in perfumes sold in the U.S. due to the sperm whale's endangered status, the demand is very high in countries such as France.
As for the three lucky fisherman, they say they've already been offered $2.8 million for their catch of a lifetime by a Saudi trader.