He had found the “rock” on the beach and rushed to call for help as soon as he suspected there was something strange about it. He felt helpless as he stood outside and watched his house be blocked off and quarantined.
A man in protective gear walked out a few minutes later to tell them what they had found. He was shocked by what he heard.
At The Beach
Steven Whitten and his wife spent spring of 2016 at the beach. It was their favorite stretch of beach located in Lancashire, England. He and Viola were enjoying a walk along Middleton Sands.
They were able to see the Irish Sea from the beach and it was a breathtaking sight. They lived in the village of Overton which wasn’t far from where they walked.
Their Favorite Spot
Hikers and dog owners loved Middleton Sands, but Steven and Viola stuck to the quieter and more private parts for their walks.
They loved the breathtaking view, but Steven’s attention was soon diverted to a strange smell. They would never have guessed that they were about to find something life-changing.
Smell In The Air
The couple followed the scent to its source without realizing it. The football-sized rock had washed up on the beach and smelled strange. Time in the water had made it smooth, but it had developed an odd and wax-like texture.
They had never seen anything like this before and wondered what it was.
Steven had heard about others finding strange things on the beach but had never heard anything matching what he saw. He cautiously reached out to touch the rock.
He was too interested in the object to leave it behind and used Viola’s scarf to wrap it up. He wanted to take it home to try and confirm his suspicions.
Steven wanted to weigh the strange lump with his fisherman's scales and rushed through the front door to find them. It weighed 3.5 pounds, and he looked at his wife excitedly.
He posted a picture of the “rock” on a community Facebook group and waited for the comments to start filtering through.
Some suggested that it looked like a meteor, but others wrote that it could be a piece of volcanic rock from the ocean’s depths.
It wasn’t long before an amateur scientist suggested the “magnet test” for Steven to try. He could deduce an answer that way, but no one expected what he would discover.
What Did It Feel Like?
Steve was asked to describe the “rock” in an interview. He said it felt like a hard rubber ball and like “wax, like a candle.” He said the wax stuck to his fingers when he touched it.
But the object would soon cause panic in the Whitten household - why? Steven knew something wasn’t right after he held the thing up to the magnet.
He discovered that the “rock” didn’t have any iron, which debunked the meteorite theory. But what about the foul smell that clung to the object?
Steven knew the object was potentially dangerous, considering he still had no idea what it was. He fetched his phone, and men in protective gear arrived a few minutes later.
Two officials blocked off the house before they went inside to look for the substance to be disposed of. Steven stood outside with his wife and told the officials that they had set the “rock” on the dining room table after placing it in a box.
They carefully examined the rock before approaching the worried couple with their findings.
A Concerned Steven
Steven was concerned that he had picked up something hazardous and was relieved when the officials confirmed that wasn’t the case. But he wasn’t expecting what they told him next.
They told him it was a rare occurrence, but sometimes ambergris chunks washed up on the shore. But Steven wondered if that’s what it was.
What It’s Used For
He learned that, despite its smell, ambergris is a sought-after substance. The terrible “farmyard” manure-like smell changed over time to something sweeter.
Expensive perfumes are made using ambergris and have been for centuries. It has been said that the substance can be eaten.
Ambergris comes from the bile ducts of whales after being excreted. It doesn’t sound pleasant, but the right buyers can make a fortune.
Steven and Viola couldn’t believe a beach walk had led them to this. How lucky were they? But there was something they hadn’t thought about yet.
A Whale Species
Only one species of whale produces ambergris. Oceans from all over the world are home to sperm whales. They can grow up to 67 feet long and weigh 63 tons and over.
There has been an increase in sperm whale populations, but these creatures haven’t always been this plentiful.
Blubber is a versatile substance that sperm whales can provide. Besides being harvested for its unique scent, ambergris was used for pencils, machine oil, candles, and soap.
Unfortunately, the 19th and 20th centuries saw the deaths of approximately one million whales. During the 1980s, whaling and hunting for ambergris were banned.