Whale puke and beach cleanupSeptember 13th, 2012 by Jeff Adams
First of all, this Saturday (9/15/2012) is an opportunity for you and your family or friends to join others all over the world as we put a dent in the garbage that litters our shorelines and impacts sea life when they eat it or get caught in or smothered by it. Even people may be in harms way from large, sharp or toxic debris.
Often you’ll find sea life living or in marine garbage. They may be happy, but their “home” also serves as an unnatural hazard to other sea life and ultimately may not suit their own needs. I once found a board floating on the beach. On the underside was a cluster of midshipman eggs. Daddy midshipman attracted a lady to lay eggs for him to guard… a tough job when his nest floats away. Now that the wood is gone, he’s more likely to find a nice stable boulder.
If you’re in the Bremerton/Port Orchard neighborhood or want to come over for a visit, check out this flyer image above for details on Sinclair Inlet cleanups.
You can also visit the Ocean Conservancy’s “Sign Up to Clean Up” website, enter your city/town, and find cleanups near you. You can also propose your own cleanup site.
Unfortunately, trash from enormous to miniscule is very abundant on beaches an in the water worldwide (explore NOAA’s Marine Debris Program). However, there are other gems that can be found on the beach.
A young boy in the UK recently found a $60,000′ish chunk of “whale sick”… to use the British terminology. If you read and have a clear memory of chapter’s 91 and 92 of Melville’s Moby Dick,… well anyway, it tells of the procurement of a some ambergris from a sperm whale obtained by “unrighteous cunning” and says of ambergris “Who would think, then, that such fine ladies and gentlemen should regale themselves with an essence found in the inglorious bowels of a sick whale! Yet so it is.”
Ambergris was historically used in the production of perfumes and still is in limited, but extremely expensive quantities. It was also used to flavor food. Ambergris eggs and muktuk? (A poor play on green eggs and ham… since ambergris eggs apparently don’t go well with pig).
The ambergris is produced in the intestines of sperm whales and typically passed out as feces. If it’s too large, then it may be puked up. It is described as starting with an distinct aroma of feces (yum), but over months and years of floating on the ocean becomes uniquely sweet, marine and earthy… and edible.
Dig around for more information on this unique relationship between humans and a marine resources. Fascinating stuff! Ambergris is mostly found in the Atlantic Ocean and the Western Pacific, but as you’re cleaning the beach this weekend, keep an eye and nostril out for a waxy, gray rock that has an unusual aroma. You may find your own windfall of whale discharge.
Jeff Adams is a Washington Sea Grant Marine Water Quality Specialist, affiliated with the University of Washington’s College of the Environment, and based in Bremerton. You can follow his Sea Life blog, SalishSeaLife tweets, FaceBook and video posts, send email to firstname.lastname@example.org or call at 360-337-4619.