Ambergris: Why Perfume Makers Love Constipated Whales

Ambergris: Why Perfume Makers Love Constipated Whales


Hi, this is Emily from MinuteEarth. For centuries, perfume-makers have been obsessed
with ambergris, a rare, gross-looking substance that gives fragrances a long-lasting, animalistic
odor. Yet, for a long time, no one knew what ambergris
was – hunks of it just appeared on the ocean’s surface or along seashores, leading people
to hypothesize that it might be tree sap…or perhaps a weird kind of undersea mushroom…or
maybe tar from submerged volcanoes? But we’ve finally traced this fancy perfume
ingredient straight to whales’ butts. Like all poop origin stories, this one starts
at the other end, after sperm whales snarf down an afternoon snack of squid. Usually, the soft cephalopod slurry slides
through the whales’ first stomach and keeps going, while the bone-like beaks and other
hard parts get vomited back out. But sometimes, a few of the hard, poke-y parts
sneak through to the intestines. From there, they usually just end up flowing
with the whales’ liquidy poop out to sea, but every once in a while, the hard parts
end up getting tangled with each other and with dead intestinal worms to form poop-collecting,
bacteria-ridden rectal roadblocks. As the intestinal walls contract, some roadblocks
simply pop free, but others just get denser, and, as they capture more fecal matter and
squid parts from the poop flowing around them, also larger. A sperm whale’s colon can bulge to five
times its usual diameter to accommodate one of these snowballing concretions, but eventually,
it ruptures, killing the whale and releasing a huge butt-pearl of ambergris into the ocean. To reach peak perfume quality, the ambergris
must bob along for months or years, shedding layers and reacting with the elements to complete
its transformation from a squid-based poop plug to a high-priced eau de toilette. Hey, this is Ever, an illustrator here at
MinuteEarth. You might have noticed that ambergris is the
real life version of the mythical philosopher’s stone, which the Elric Brothers try to track
down in my favorite anime series of all time. You can watch FullMetal Alchemist Brotherhood
and many others, like Dragon Ball Super, Yuri!! on Ice or catch up with Attack on Titan Season
1 (before Season 2 FINALLY comes out) at Crunchyroll. Crunchyroll sponsored this video because they
want you to know that they have gathered together the best new anime from Japan all in one place. Right now, you can even try out Crunchyroll
Premium – their new HD, ad-free offering – for 30 Days FREE. Go to to crunchyroll.com/minuteearth or click
on the link in the description to let them know that you came from us. Thanks Crunchyroll!

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