Unusual waxy, white substance washed up on beach.
Observation by Johanna Tellman
Waxy, white, unusual on our beach. It feels just like a candle.
Tom Okey, with Ocean Integrity Research writes:
"I'm wondering if that is Ambergris. At first glance, I thought it might be a sponge, which would be rough to the touch, or a colonial tunicate, which would be slippery, but zooming in, it looks like a waxy substance."
Comments from LEO Editors
According to the Natural History Museum, London Ambergris is a substance produced from the gastrointestinal tract from the Sperm Whale. Sperm whales feed on a variety of cephalopods such as cuttlefish and squid, which have hard, indigestible beaks and pens. Scientists believe that as hard sharp objects move through the intestines of the whale, they are encased in a substance to protect the intestines from damage. When they are first excreted, the blobs are very dark with a marine/manure-like odor. They float on top of water and over decades undergo photo degradation and oxidation and gradually become a crumbly white waxy object, with a pleasant perfume-like odor. This product is ambergris, a valuable substance used in the production of high-end perfumes.
Because of the wide range of colors and shapes Ambergris can be found in, it is notoriously hard to identify. If the object Joanna found is ambergris, it should have a distinct perfume-like smell, feel rough (like a rock) to the touch but also feel waxy and brittle (like hard clay), it would have no transparent qualities (light should not come through it at all), and it should melt at 140 degrees Fahrenheit. In the website Ambergris Look-A-Like, there is a waxy substance that is commonly mistaken for ambergris and looks very close to the object Johanna found.
Note: LEO Network has forwarded this observation to the Museum of the Aleutians in Unalaska to help confirm this object's identity if possible. We welcome LEO member comments on the identification of Joanna's find.