Whale of a fortune or fatty scum

01:43, Jan 31 2009
FAT CHANCE: Nic Conland, of Greater Wellington regional council says there is only an outside change the mystery object could be ambergris.

Fortune seekers flocked to a mystery beachside blob to claim a bit of what some thought was a million-dollar whale vomit - but the reality is likely to leave them cheesed off.

Hundreds of readers contacted The Dominion Post yesterday with an opinion on what had washed ashore at Wellington's Breaker Bay at the weekend.

Suggestions included a meteorite, a partially eaten, giant Oddfellow mint or even the remains of the Auckland rugby team. A part of the moon - "which everyone knows is made of cheese" - was also a popular response.

But the overwhelming speculation was that the greasy, cheese-like mass resembled ambergris - a valuable excretion, either spit or vomit, from a sperm whale. It is used in perfume as it traps aroma on the skin for long periods.

Ambergris sells for $30 a gram, making the 500kg object potentially worth upwards of $15 million.

Wellington City Council spokesman Richard MacLean said he believed it was far more likely to be tallow or lard. A sample was taken, just in case.


Greater Wellington's environmental spokesman Nic Conland said the "romantic idea" that it was ambergris was an "outside chance".

He said it was "effectively, dumped rubbish" and could have come from a fish and chip shop or a ship that had dropped a 44-gallon drum of fat overboard.

Wellington harbourmaster Mike Pryce said the inter-island ferry Aratere crew reported seeing "a large piece of ice" in Cook Strait 10 days ago and a navigation warning was issued. "I don't think that it was ice that they saw."

Mr MacLean said by early yesterday afternoon, there was not much of the greasy mound for the park rangers to remove as people had already "chomped their way through it" and taken it away.

An enterprising punter has put a piece of the unidentified lump on the auction website Trade Me.

So far the top bid has reached $5.50.

The Porirua seller, named on the website as leroystar, suggested the mass, which  was found on Breaker Bay beach at the weekend could be a part of a plane, a piece of cheese, a piece of the moon or whale vomit.

- with NZPA

The Dominion Post