Why Sperm Whale Poop Is Worth More Than Gold

Hi there. What is ounce for ounce more valueable than
gold? Since you probably read the title you should
already know the answer. Todays video is about spermwhale poop. More specifically about ambergris – which
isnt regular whale dung but a very special kind of substance that is the result of an
astonishing decade-long journey. The journey of this piece started a long time
ago in the deepest parts of our oceans, thousands of feed below the surface in the mouth of
an animal that is about as mysterious as the habitat it lives in. The Giant Squid. As swift as an arrow, up to 10m(32ft) long
and armed with 8 arms and 2 additional feeding tentacles, each of which riddled with hundrets
of serrated sucker rings these giants are without a doubt one of the most successfull
predators of the deep. They process their food with a razor-sharp
parrot-like beak at the center of their tentacles, capable of cutting even the toughest catch
into bite-sized pieces. But even all of this cant protect them from
the biggest toothed predator on the planet – the sperm whale. These whales have specialized in hunting these
and other deep sea squids – but how exactly they do this is still mostly a mystery. It was once hypothesised that they used their
powerful ultrasound clicks to stun their prey. After all, at up to 235 decibels these clicks
are the most powerful biological sounds in the animal kingdom and would be intense enough
to cause permant hearing loss and even potentiall deadly lung ruptures if they were at a frequency
humans could hear. Experiments, however, have shown that these
clicks not only not stun squids, squids seem to not even be able to detect them. Instead spermwhales seems to only use them
to locate their pray when hunting. First with broad loud long-range clicks to
scan their sourrounds and then after identifying a target with a more focussed beam of clicks. The closer they get to their prey the faster
and quiter these clicks become. The significantly increased click rate during
the last few meters of their appraoch, also called the buzz, likey enhances the resolution
and allows for nearly realtime updates of the prey location. how the sperm whale can keep track of the
squid when it drops below the sonar beam and until it reaches the mouth is however, still
a mystery. once in reach of the mouth the whales likely
use suction feeding to catch the prey, similarly to dolphins and beaked whales. All these animals can create a powerful suction
through rapid movements in head, neck muscles and mouth regions also called jerks which
they use to quite litearlly vacuum in their pray. Still, given that these battles take place
thousands of meters beneath the ocean surface is really difficult for scientists to shed
a light on them. how exactly these giants hunt the immensense
amounts of squid they need is depite the progess of recent years still poorly understood. Weighing up to 60 metric tons(63 tons) an
adult spermwhale roughly needs one metric ton (1.1 tons) of food per day. This is about as much as one african elephant
bull a week. So its not surprising that at any given time
you can find the remains of one thousand and more squids in the 4 stomachs of a sperm whales
which consequently also means thousands of indegestable beaks as well as the pens and
eyelenses of the squids which are also indigestable. These items are normally vomited into the
ocean when they fill up the stomach to a certain point. This happens in intervals of about 7-10 days
and is similarly to cats vomiting hair balls, completely normal. In rare cases, however – scientists belief
it only occurs in 1 out of 100 spermwhales – this progress doesnt work like its supposed
to. Instead, large amounts of these materials
accumulate in the last stomach where they congregate into a large undigestible mass
of squid beaks, squid pens and parasitic worms, which are found in just about all whale stomachs. Eventually parts of this mass – which cant
be vomitted anymore – will leak into the intestine. What exactly happens to the lump there is
still debated. The best theory is that while mass is slowly
carried through the intestine it gets together with feces engulfed by a wax-like substance
secreted to protect the whales digestive systems from the sharp objects. Smaller chunks are probably excreted and find
their way into the ocean that way but if the mass is too large already it builds up infront
of the rectum and cannot be passed. Because the intestines of sperm whales arent
meant for solid feces the sphincter muscle simply cant relax sufficiently enough. At the beginning however this isnt a severe
problem. thorugh a local increase in tension and water-absorbing
capacity the lump get compressed and shaped into a smooth round clump that hampers defecation
but doesnt completely prevent it. Scientists believe sperm whales can live years
maybe even decades with such a boulder before it becomes life-threateing. But because over time the lump grows larger
and larger as layer by layer more fecal matter and more of the waxy substance are added to
it eventually the walls of the rectum become so distended that they rupture, which inevitably
kills the whale. In this case sharks and other scavangers will
release the ambergris into the sea. But this is only the beginning of its journey. for the the fresh lump to transform from the
soft, brown, fecal-smelling rough diamond into one for the most valueble natural substances
in the world it takes years sometimes even decades in the ocean, during which the boulder
ages like a fine wine. Over time sunlight salt and water as well
as bacteria and enzymes on the inside of the lump change its molecular structure, clean
and dry it. The endresult is a much smaller and lighter
lump with a pale grey or yellowish color that could easily be mistaken for a stone when
held in hand and posseses only a slight yet distinctive scent. Ambergris is usually found washed up on the
beach either by lucky walkers or by professional ambergris hunters. But fishermen too find these strange lumps
in their nets from time to time. Of course its usually quite the surprise when
people find out just how valuebale the find really is. But what exactly is it that makes Ambergris
so valueable? The main reason is of course its rarity – after
years in the intestines of just a few sperm whales and possibly decades on the open ocean
the chances to find even one lump are understandebly small. This, together with its high demand, particularly
by high end perfume makers, explains why its still on of the most expensive and sought
after materials. Ambergris has been prized for over a thousand
years because of its distinctive smell and taste and its alleged medicinal properties
The Greek supposedly added it to their wine and the aztec to their tobacco. During the middle ages in Europe it was used
as as medication for headaches, colds, epilepsy. It was even believed sniffing amberergris
would protect you from the plague. King Charles II reportatly loved eating it
on eggs and in Aegypt it was added to coffee as an aphrodisiac. In Asia Ambergris was traded like spices,
burned in religious ceremonies and used in traditional medicine. But most notably it was, and still is, prized
by perfume makers all over the world for its marine, animalistic and sweet scent but espeically
for its ability to make scents last longer, which is probably the most important criterium
of a good perfume. Today, however, because of its incredibly
rarity and the legal problems it presents most perfume makers have switched to synthetic
alternatives but a few high-end perfume brands like chanel still use it to this day. What makes Ambergris problematic legally is
that when commercial whaling was outlawed in many parts of the world, the possession
and trade of whale products, which sometimes included ambergris, was simililarly outlawed. For example in the United States. This is despite the fact that that ambergris
cant really be harvested from dead whales, for the reasons mentioned earlier. Despite these restrictions, the demand is
still high for the floading gold which means that the few pieces found each year continue
to be traded for rediculous amounts. Depending on the quality and the age of the
lump gram prices usually range between $20 to $50 which means Sperm whale poop is still
one of the most valueable substances on the planet. In 2006, a couple walking on the beach in
Australia found a chunk of ambergris weighing over 14kg(30lbs), which netted them $300.000. In 2013, a dog walker found a 2.7kg(6lbs)
lump washed up on a British beach that was valued by experts at up to $200.000
But the most astonishing find of recent times made three Omani fishermen when they scooped
an 80kg(180lbs) piece of ambergris out of the ocean that was values at $2.5 million
– $3 million. Given the sums involved these stories usally
get picked up by local news outlets. Sadly however, most of the resulting articles
continue to spread the popular misconception that ambergris is whale vomit – an early hypothesis
for the origins of these lumps that can be ruled out almost entirely today. Before commercial whaling revealed the true
origins of ambergris, people had many explanations for where it came from or what it was. Originally It was believed ambergris and amber
both came from tree sap, hence the similar names. Other early explanations included bird droppings,
dried sea foam or sea mushrooms, beehives that had fallen into the ocean and crocodile
droppings So, if you ever walk across the beach and
stumble across a stone that has no earthly business being there – a stone that feels
slighty too light for its size and has a strange scent you’ve never smeller before. Remember to take it home with you. Thanks for watching

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