Perfumes don’t contain whale vomit but some of them do contain ambergris substance. Ambergris is a solid waxy flammable substance of a dull grey or blackish color produced in the digestive system of sperm whales.
When removed from the whale it has been described as possessing a strong fecal smell. But the scent is said to be more pleasant once the mass dries out.
At this stage it is often described as musky. Herman Melville even referred to this curious smell in his novel Moby Dick.
He wrote of the terrible odor of a dead whale from which ‘stole a faint stream of perfume.’ Ambrein an odorless alcohol is extracted from ambergris and used to make a perfume’s scent last longer. Due to accessibility and cost synthetic chemicals have now replaced ambrein in all but the most expensive perfumes.
- Are there any ethical or environmental concerns associated with the use of ambergris in perfume production?
- Could you explain how ambrein extracted from ambergris helps perfume scents last longer and why is it used in only the most expensive perfumes?
- How is ambergris collected from sperm whales and is this practice still in use today?
Are there any ethical or environmental concerns associated with the use of ambergris in perfume production?
Ambergris is a rare secretion from the sperm whale that has been used in creating fine perfumes for thousands of years. However there are ethical and environmental concerns associated with its use in perfume production.
The harvesting of ambergris involves killing or harming sperm whales which are an endangered species. Many countries have introduced laws banning the trading of ambergris due to conservation concerns.
Despite its high value many perfume manufacturers are moving away from using ambergris due to ethical concerns over the hunting of sperm whales. Some perfume brands have begun to pave the way to a more responsible approach by not using any raw materials of animal origin such as ambergris.
While ambergris is not harmful to whales it is illegal to harvest and sell in many countries due to conservation concerns.
Could you explain how ambrein extracted from ambergris helps perfume scents last longer and why is it used in only the most expensive perfumes?
Ambrein is an odorous compound extracted from ambergris a waxy substance found in the intestines of sperm whales. It is used in perfumery as a fixative to help fragrances last longer on the skin.
According to biologist Joerg Bohlmann compounds like ambergris are able to retain fragrance on the skin in complex form over a long period of time. Ambergris has been highly valued by perfume makers as a fixative that allows the scent to endure much longer although it has been mostly replaced by synthetic ambroxide.
Due to the environmental protection of the whale and the cost of ambergris synthetic chemicals have now replaced ambrein in all but the most expensive perfumes.
How is ambergris collected from sperm whales and is this practice still in use today?
Ambergris is a solid waxy substance originating in the intestine of the sperm whale. Sperm whales eject an intestinal slurry called ambergris into the ocean where the substance hardens as it bobs along.
Ambergris has been used for centuries but for many years its origin remained a mystery. It is produced by sperm whales and is uncommon found in less than 5% of whale carcasses.
It is thought that pygmy and dwarf sperm whales produce the substance in smaller amounts as they too have cephalopod-rich diets. The by-product is made only by sperm whales who secrete ambrein as a way of gluing together the undigestible beaks of squids they eat.
Ambergris floats and washes ashore most frequently on the coasts of China Japan Africa and the Americas and on tropical islands such as the Bahamas. The value of ambergris lies in its role in the fragrance industry.
High-end perfumes from houses such as Chanel and Lanvin take advantage of the ability of ambergris to fix scent to human skin. The smell of ambergris itself varies from piece to piece ranging from earthy to musky to sweet.
If a perfume house’s “nose”—the person responsible for choosing scents—likes the aroma the ambergris can be worth thousands an ounce. Laws regulating the collection and sale of ambergris vary around the world.
In the United Kingdom and the European Union it’s legal to collect the ambergris because the substance is considered a waste product of sperm whales. However whales are now protected worldwide and there are ongoing pressures from some countries to reintroduce whaling as a mechanism for population management and control.
It is not clear whether the practice of collecting ambergris from sperm whales is still in use today.
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