An Omani fisherman could sell whale vomit for millions

Because evidently, a whale’s waste is a man’s wealth.

Meryl D'Souza November 13, 2016

There isn’t a lot we know about Qurayyat, Oman. We know it is a little fishing village about 80kms away from Muscat, the country's capital city. The only other thing we know about Qurayyat is that it will house a water plant that aims to quench the water demand in the Sultanate for the next 20 years.

The village is also home to many fishermen. Khalid Al Sinani has been in the business for more than 20 years. Every morning, the father of four sails the nearby seas in search of the daily catch, mostly game fish including Yellowfin Tuna and Dorado Grouper.

On most days, it is a hard knock life for Khalid Al Sinani, but last week the tide turned for him and two of his friends, as they hauled what could be a life-changing catch. 

As the trio set about their daily run, they noticed something floating in the sea. While they're used to the smell of the ocean, they noticed whatever this was had a particularly repulsive odour.

Al Sinani had a faint idea of what it could be but waited for expert opinion. “I was told earlier that ambergris has an icky smell, but after a couple of days it imparts a pleasant scent,” he told the Times of Oman. “We rushed back to the beach with joy and happiness.” 

Now not a lot of people know this but ambergris is actually sperm whale intestinal slurry – that’s fancy talk for waste. It has wax-like features that hardens over time, causing it to bob on the surface of the sea. Eventually it collects along shorelines and looks like rock. 

Ambergris has a valuable role in the fragrance industry. The substance is used to create fragrances by many high-end brands including Chanel and Lanvin. The substance is illegal in the United States because of the sperm whale’s endangered status, but foreign markets, especially those in France, have no problem in putting the waste to good use.

Al Sinani and his friends stored the 80 kg ambergris they found and waited on expert opinion before making the news public. “After we made sure it was ambergris, we started cutting it in order to dry and sell it later,” Al Sinani said.

There is talk of Al Sinani and his crew already receiving offers from businessmen in neighbouring UAE, with the highest believed to have been OMR 7,500 per kilogram. There's also been approaches from Saudi Arabia, with a quote of OMR 13,500 per kilogram. The father of four though is holding out for offers in the region of OMR1 million per kilogram.

Although lucky beachcombers have found ambergris in the past, Al Sinani’s haul is considered to be one of the largest there's ever been. All this because one whale couldn’t keep down the shrimp it had for dinner.