Rare whale find worth $400,000

Last updated 07:37 11/05/2011

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Maori from a South Wairarapa marae have found a big chunk of whale ambergris, worth thousands of dollars, while burying the corpse of a stranded sperm whale that had been mutilated by vandals.

They said they would use the unexpected windfall to renovate their marae and build new kitchens.

Ngati Hinewaka spokesman and kaitiaki Haami Te Whaiti told the Wairarapa Times-Age that he and a dozen other people from Kohunui Marae at Pirinoa discovered the 40 kilograms of ambergris last August.

Ambergris is a wax-like substance secreted in sperm whale intestines, and it protects the whale's stomach from its abrasive diet of beaked squid. It has been used for centuries as a fixative for expensive perfumes, as it traps aroma on the skin for long periods.

The 40-kilogram find was equivalent to the normal total annual export of the substance, which sometimes washes up on west coast beaches in Northland.

Dargaville broker Adrienne Beuse said up to $10,000 a kilogram could be paid to the finder of highest quality white ambergris washed up on a beach, and as much as $40,000 a kg was paid inside the perfume industry.

When brokers were contacted, potential buyers flew to Wairarapa from France and the United States. The ambergris was eventually sold to a French company, although Mr Te Whaiti could not disclose the amount paid under the terms of the sale.

"It was a lot of money - that's all I can say."

The group found the ambergris while burying the remains of an 18-metre bull sperm whale that had been mutilated and set alight by people who stole its jawbone, which is valued for carving.

"Finding the ambergris, for all of us, felt right," Mr Te Whaiti said.

"It was a gift from the whale, from the ocean - our ancestors, our tipuna, taking care of us." NZPA

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