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What is it and where does it come from?
Ambergris was used to perfume cosmetics in the days of ancient Mesopotamia and almost every civilization on the earth has a brush with Ambergris. Before 1,000
AD, the Chinese names ambergris as lung sien hiang, “dragon’s spittle perfume,” as they think that it was produced from the drooling of dragons sleeping on rocks at the edge of a sea. The Arabs knew ambergris as anbar who believed that it is produced from springs near seas. It also gets its name from here. For centuries, this substancehas also been used as a flavoring for food.
During the Middle Ages, Europeans used ambergris as a remedy for headaches,
colds, epilepsy, and other ailments. In the 1851 whaling novel Moby-Dick, Herman
Melville claimed that ambergris was “largely used in perfumery.” But nobody ever
knew where it really came from. Experts were still guessing its origin thousands of
years later, until the long ages of guesswork ended in the 1720’s, when Nantucket
whalers found gobs of the costly material inside the stomachs of sperm whales.
Industrial whaling quickly burgeoned. By 20th century ambergris is mainly recovered
from inside the carcasses of sperm whales.
Through countless ages, people have found pieces of ambergris on sandy
beaches. It was names grey amber to distinguish it from golden amber, another rare
treasure. Both of them were among the most sought-after substances in the world,
almost as valuable as gold. (Ambergris sells for roughly $20 a gram, slightly less than
gold at $30 a gram.) Amber floats in salt water, and in old times the origin of both
these substances was mysterious. But it turned out that amber and ambergris have
little in common. Amber is a fossilized resin from trees that was quite familiar to
Europeans long before the discovery of the New World, and prized for jewelry.
Although considered a gem, amber is a hard, transparent, wholly-organic material
derived from the resin of extinct species of trees, mainly pines.
To the earliest Western chroniclers, ambergris was variously thought to come
from the same bituminous sea founts as amber, from the sperm of fishes or whales,
from the droppings of strange sea birds (probably because of confusion over the
include beaks of squid) or from the large hives of bees living near the sea. Marco
Polo was the first Western chronicler who correctly attributed ambergris to sperm
whales and its vomit.
As sperm whales navigate in the oceans, they often dive down to 2 km or more
below the sea level to prey on squid, most famously the Giant Squid. It’s commonly accepted that ambergris forms in the whale’s gut or intestines as the creature attempts
to “deal” with squid beaks. Sperm whales are rather partial to squid, but seemingly
struggle to digest the hard, sharp, parrot-like beaks. It is thought their stomach juices
become hyper-active trying to process the irritants, and eventually hard, resinous
lumps are formed around the beaks, and then expelled from their innards by
vomiting. When a whale initially vomits up ambergris, it is soft and has a terrible
smell. Some marine biologists compare it to the unpleasant smell of cow dung. But
after floating on the salty ocean for about a decade, the substance hardens with air
and sun into a smooth, waxy, usually rounded piece of nostril heaven. The dung smell
is gone, replaced by a sweet, smooth, musky and pleasant earthy aroma.
Since ambergris is derived from animals, naturally a question of ethics arises,
and in the case of ambergris, it is very important to consider. Sperm whales are an
endangered species, whose populations started to decline as far back as the 19th
century due to the high demand for their highly emollient oil, and today their stocks
still have not recovered. During the 1970’s, the Save the Whales movement brought
the plight of whales to international recognition. Many people now believe that
whales are “saved”. This couldn’t be further from the truth. All around the world,
whaling still exists. Many countries continue to hunt whales, in spite of international
treaties to protect them. Many marine researchers are concerned that even the trade in
naturally found ambergris can be harmful by creating further incentives to hunt
whales of this valuable substance.
One of the forms ambergris is used today is as a valuable fixative in perfumes
to enhance and prolong the scent. But nowadays, since ambergris is rare and
expensive, and big fragrance suppliers that make most of the fragrances on the
market today do not deal in it for reasons of cost, availability and murky legal issues,
most perfumeries prefer to add a chemical derivative which mimics the properties of
ambergris. As a fragrance consumer, you can assume that there is no natural
ambergris in your perfume bottle, unless the company advertises this fact and unless
you own vintage fragrances created before the 1980s. If you are wondering if you
have been wearing a perfume with this legendary ingredient, you may want to review
your scent collection. Here are a few of some of the top ambergris containing
perfumes: Givenchy Amarige, Chanel No. 5, and Gucci Guilty

Questions 1-3
Complete the sentences below with NO MORE THAN ONE WORD from the
Write your answer in boxes 1-3 on your answer sheet
1. Sperm whales can’t digest the ___________ of the squids
2. Sperm whales drive the irritants out of their intestines by ___________.
3. The vomit of sperm whale gradually ___________ on contact of air before
having pleasant smell.








1. .

2. .

3. .







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