As soon as he thought there could be more to this odd “rock” that he found on the beach, he called for help. Standing outside, he watched helplessly as his house was cordoned off and quarantined.
A few minutes later, a man in protective gear walked out and began reporting his findings. However, all he could do was stand there with his mouth hanging open. What was it that he saw?
It all started in the spring of 2016. Steven Whitten and his wife, Viola, were walking along Middleton Sands. This was their favorite stretch of beach in Lancashire, England. The beach had stunning views of the Irish Sea and was just a stone’s throw away from their home. They lived in the village of Overton.
While Middleton Sands is a rather popular place among hikers and dog owners, Steven and Viola enjoyed walking along a less popular area. They didn’t like the idea of being surrounded by people when they were trying to relax.
They were soaking in the view when Steven started noticing a weird, acrid smell in the air. Little did the two know that they were about to stumble across something that would change their lives.
The odor was somewhat of a rotting fish. They had never experienced something like it before. Even though they were put off by the smell, they were eager to know what it was. They continued walking and noticed a greyish lump slightly smaller than a rugby ball.
The couple followed the bad smell right to its source. Lying washed up on the beach was a weird and odorous rock. It was around the size of a football. It seems to have been worth smooth by years of being pummelled by the waves. What did the couple find?
Steven reached out, touching the rock gingerly. He had read about weird beach finds in the past, especially in the area. However, he’d never heard of anything like this being found. His curiosity had piqued.
He examined the smell but concluded that he had never experienced anything like it before. The small was so terrible, but also very distinct. “It was like a cross between squid and farmyard manure,” he said.
The couple always dreamed of the day that they would strike gold and become rich. Maybe that day wasn’t too far off. What began as a normal day, changed completely and they never even saw it coming.
The couple pondered what to do with the rock. Would they leave it there because of its horrific odor or would they take it home? This was not an easy decision. Hmm, what do you think they decided to do?
Well, this couple was not going to give up just yet. Like, we said, they always wanted to strike rich and there was a chance that this find could be valuable. So they took their chances. They hoped it would be worth a lot of money and help them buy a static caravan
He picked up the rock and wrapped it in Viola’s scarf. He wanted to make sure it stayed safe. He did not want anyone to see what he had found. Steven couldn’t wait to go online and find out if his suspicions were true.
As soon as they got home, Steven used his fisherman’s scales to weigh the bizarre lump. The reading said 3.5 pounds, which excited him and his wife. He knew that he needed some help if he was going to get to the bottom of this.
He decided to turn to a community group on Facebook. Posting a picture of the “rock” online, the post was soon flooded with comments to read. Just wait till you see what happened next.
People were quick to respond, and many had very farfetched ideas. Some people speculated that it was a piece of volcanic rock that originated deep in the ocean. Others claimed it looked like a meteor.
One amateur meteorologist quickly suggested that Steven try the “magnet test” to find out for sure. This guy was convinced that he was right, but it turned out that they were all very wrong…
“It feels like a rock-hard rubber ball, its texture is like wax, like a candle. When you touch it, you get wax sticking to your fingers,” Steven explained later in an interview. What could this be?
However, what was it about the strange “rock” that would cause such a stir in the Whitten home? After Steven held the object against a magnet, he knew it was finally time to panic. We are starting to get nervous too…
At this point, he was a bit nervous to continue. It was him and his wife experimenting with an unknown rock they found on the beach. They had no clue whether it was dangerous and could harm them in any way. He had to be careful.
The “magnet test” had confirmed that the “rock” didn’t contain any iron. So what does this mean? This meant that it was not a meteorite. Steven has yet to find an explanation for the object’s foul smell.
He concluded that he had no idea what he was handling. He didn’t even know if it was dangerous. And so, he made a quick phone call. Then, the men in protective suits arrived at his house.
At this point, it was clear that he did not know what he was dealing with. While people online certainly helped, this was something out of his control. He needed to request the help of experts, and that is actually what he did. But what till you see what happened next.
Two officials arrived at the house and cordoned it off right away. Then, they went inside to dispose of the substance safely while Steven and Viola stood outside giving them instructions. They waited patiently.
The so-called “rock” that they found was stationed inside a box on the dining room table. After careful examination, the officials came back out and gave the frightened couple the news. This was completely shocking.
Steven held his wife close as he waited patiently to try and understand what the mystery was all about. He couldn’t help but think the worst. The “rock” was so strange looking and the expressions on the officials did not make it any easier for him.
When the officials told Steven that the item he picked up wasn’t hazardous, he breathed a sigh of relief. It wasn’t a piece of waste that was tossed on the beach. However, when the officials told him what the “rock” actually was, his eyes widened in shock. They told him that while they’re extremely rare, hunks of ambergris wash up on the shore occasionally. What is ambergris?
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.
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.
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.
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.
In most countries, the trade of ambergris has been outlawed. This includes the United States. In America, the illegality of trading ambergris forms just one part on a wider ban on hunting and exploiting whales. Luckily for Steven, in the UK, ambergris is considered to be a waste product. So how much was it worth?
The Whittens were shocked to find out that another lump of ambergris was found on the beach by a man in Morecambe. That wasn’t far from where Steven and Viola found their own. That piece ended up selling for a staggering $155,000! How much would the Whittens get for their piece of “floating gold”?
The piece of ambergris that was found in Morecambe weighed about 6 pounds. Meaning that it was twice the size of the Whittens’ piece. All the same, that meant that their ambergris could sell for around $65,000! That’s an incredible amount of money for a piece of whale by-product if we do say so ourselves.