Ambergris, Sperm Whales and Musk Xylene

While walking his dog at Morecambe beach Ken Wilman, an unemployed British man, found a chunk of sperm whale vomit called ambergris. Ken left the foul smelling lump at beach and later came back to collect it after doing some research about it.

English: Real ambergris from a whale.
English: Real ambergris from a whale. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Ambergris is produced in the intestine of sperm whale which scientist believes help the intestine to pass hard undigested objects which the whale may swallow. Ambergis can be found floating in the oceans or sometimes on beaches. Some self-styled beach comber(s) look for ambergris to make a fortune as this substance is used in perfumes.  Ken Wilman has already received an offer of 50,000 Euros and may end up receiving up to or more than 100,000 Euros.  In the past some y lucky beach walkers have stumbled upon this rare treasure.

A sperm whale seen from above.
A sperm whale seen from above. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Ambergris is having fragrance similar to musk. Though synthetic musk is available in perfume industry natural ambergris will fetch more value in the market.

Natural musk is obtained from Musk deer and other animals like Muskrat (rodent), musk duck, musk duck etc.

English: Musk Duck at Tidbinbilla Nature Reser...
English: Musk Duck at Tidbinbilla Nature Reserve, Canberra, ACT (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Synthetic musk is “Musk Xylene” (5-tert-BUTYL-2,4,6-TRINITRO-m- XYLENE ) produced from meta-xylene (1,3-dimethylbenzene). Musk Xylene has explosive properties under confinement and is a big safety concern while handling and transporting. Though it does have explosive properties it does not need to be transported as Class 1 ( explosives). MDG Code lists Musk Xylene under class 4.1 and is authorized only to be transported in fibreboard boxes with quantity limitation per box.  If any packaging other than what is authorized by IMDG Code is used then a competent authority approval is needed.

For full details about sea transport refer entry UN 2956 in IMDG Code.

The use of musk xylene in the fragrance industry is diminishing year by year.  Japanese industry ceased to use this since early 80’s, Germany stopped by early 90’s and by year 2000 European Union stopped the production. Currently China is the biggest manufacturer and exporter of musk xylene.

From tomorrow I will start walking my dog on beach 🙂

( source of information Wikipedia, IMDG Code and BBC news )