A whale that died from sepsis and washed up on the shore of a Canary Island was unknowingly carrying £425,000 worth of gold in its digestive system.
Scientists on the island of La Palma were given a shock when they discovered the lost treasure, dubbed “floating gold”.
The 21lbs lump of ambergris found in the beast’s intestines is now on the market.
But it is going to a good cause, with its discoverer, Antonio Fernández Rodríguez, planning to put any money made from it towards helping victims of a volcano that erupted on the island two years ago.
A postmortem by scientists revealed the massive 42ft whale had died of sepsis, and then washed up on Nogales beach last month.
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The postmortem was made difficult by a rising tide on the beach – but Rodríguez, who is head of the institute of animal health and food security at the University of Las Palmas, stuck with it.
His first clue was something hard stuck in the creature’s digestive system.
He said: “What I took out was a stone about 50-60cm in diameter weighing 9.5kg.
“The waves were washing over the whale. Everyone was watching when I returned to the beach but they didn’t know that what I had in my hands was ambergris.”
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Known as floating gold or grey amber, ambergris is produced by about one in every hundred sperm whales.
For centuries it has been sought after for use in perfume.
The substance is made up of the remains of squid and cuttlefish eaten by the whale which binds over time to form ambergris.
This “floating gold” can be excreted, which is why it is mostly found floating in the sea.
However sometimes, as in the case with the whale in La Palma, it can grow too large, rupturing the intestine and killing the whale.
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Ambergris is perfect for perfume because of its woody scent and ambrein content – which is an odourless alcohol that can extend the life that scent, or any other.
Its trade is banned by the US, Australia and India, so as not to encourage whaling.
But for La Palma, £685million in damage was caused by the volcanic eruption on the island in 2021 – meaning the substance could come in handy for them.
Rodriquez said: “The law is different in every country. In our case, I hope the money will go to the island of La Palma, where the whale ran aground and died.”
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