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It turns out that ambergris was a highly coveted substance for centuries. It’s known for its terrible smell – “like a cross between squid and farmyard manure” – but its odor becomes sweeter over time. This substance has been used in expensive perfumes for hundreds of years. Some historians have even gone as far as believing the substance to be edible.

Whale By-Product

Ambergris is a whale by-product. It’s produced in the bile ducts of whales and then it gets excreted. While this sounds pretty nasty, it’s found in nature so rarely that it’s worth a fortune to the right people. Steven and Viola just so happened to stumble across it on a walk on the beach! They couldn’t believe their luck. However, there was a catch.

Sperm Whales

Only produced by one species of whale, ambergris is solely produced by the sperm whale. They’re found in oceans all around the world, including Britain’s coastal waters. These whales can grow to be 67 feet long and they can weigh over 63 tons. While the sperm whale populations have increased, they weren’t always so prolific.


Sperm whales were commonly hunted in the past for their blubber. It was used to make anything from candles to soap to machine oil and even pencils. Yes, ambergris was also harvested for its scent. Unfortunately, as many as one million whales were killed in the 19th and 20th centuries. In the 1980s, a ban on whaling was passed – it included ambergris.

Very Rare

Adding to ambergris’ mystery and rarity is the fact that it’s created very slowly – over the years. It’s also thought that not all sperm whales can produce it. Experts have said that only about 1% of the sperm whale population will produce this substance. Oddly enough, it’s mostly found in the Atlantic Ocean.

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