A foul-smelling lump of excrement can become sweet perfume, rather like a pig’s ear might become a silk purse. That is the case for a man in England out for a walk with his dog on a beach when he chanced upon what is known in the trade as ambergris, which is to say in the vernacular: whale vomit.
According to the BBC, Ken Wilman was walking along the edge of the sea at Morecambe when his trusty canine began snuffing at a stone-like object on the beach. When Wilman investigated and picked up the thing, he quickly dropped it. The BBC reported that Wilman said, “When I picked it up and smelled it, I put it back down again and I thought 'urgh.'”
But leisurely dog walks may have a way of making the wheels turn in the minds of some, so it was the Wilman did his research and determined that what he had found was a lump of ambergris: a substance prized by perfume makers. Going back to the beach, he retrieved the ambergris and has since sold the seven-pound chunk to a French dealer for approximately $50,000.
The foul substance is vomited up perhaps hundreds of miles away from shore. When it first hits land, it becomes much more pleasant over time as it dries in the sun. It floats in the sea perhaps for years after being regurgitated by whales and after exposure to sun and sea it becomes waxy and has a sweet smell. The perfume industry uses it to prolong the scent of perfume, even though substitutes can be had.