Rare find of ambergris on Leven beach could net Fife family thousands of £s
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Ronnie Humphreys and son Alfie, aged five, found the pieces of ambergris totalling around 2kg on Leven beach.
It’s a naturally occurring by-product of sperm whales’ digestive system – but it is worth more than gold because it is used by the perfume industry as an ingredient in the most expensive scents. Values vary wildly, and in 2021 a group of Yemeni fishermen found themselves £1million better off after they found 127kg in a sperm whale carcass. While Ronnie’s find was much smaller, it could still be worth thousands of £s.
The discovery came during as walk which is a key part of Alfie’s routine.
Ronnie, from Leven, explained: “Alfie is autistic, so as part of his routine we go to the local beach after nursery during the holidays. We go down to the rock pools and we look for crabs and bits and pieces.”
On this occasion the pair found more than they bargained for as they came across the unusual substance, which Ronnie said they didn’t notice at first.
He s aid: “Alfie stood on something. I thought it was a sea coral, but we googled it and it came back as ambergris, so I bagged it up. I didn’t think much of it at first, but then it came to me when we were at the bottom of the beach. Out of curiosity we went back and took a picture”.
Ambergris is a naturally occurring by-product of sperm whales’ digestive system. Whilst squids are one of their favourite foods, they have trouble digesting their sharp beaks. Whilst they will mostly regurgitate them, occasionally the beaks make their way into the whales’ intestines where a waxy substance is formed to protect the whales’ insides from being pierced. This waxy substance is then excreted, and the substance then ends up floating in the sea and can occasionally be found washed up on beaches.
By weight, ambergris is worth more than gold because it is used by the perfume industry as an ingredient in the most expensive scents. In days gone by it was also highly-prized as incense, an aphrodisiac and a medicine.
Identifying the substance as ambergris can happen in a number of ways. One is to identify it is from its smell – fresh ambergris has a pungent smell more akin to manure than what you might typically expect from the sea, although older ambergris can smell nicer. It is also possible to test the substance by placing a hot needle on it, and it should melt through it quickly, leaving behind a glossy and sticky black or caramel liquid behind
And according to Ronnie the substance ticks all the right boxes. He said: “We did the hot needle test and it passed that. We heated it up in a spoon and it turned into that light brown waxy oil – and it absolutely hums of horse manure!”
Ronnie has now been in contact with specialist auctioneers who he hopes can advise him of the next steps. In 2021 a group of Yemeni fishermen found themselves £1million better off after they found 127kg in a sperm whale carcass, and while Ronnie’s find is much smaller, it could net him a small fortune.
Ronnie said: “It was like winning the lottery. It’s not sunk in. ”