He found a very strange “rock” on the beach. Immediately, he thought there might just be more to it. And so, he called for help. He stood outside, watching helplessly as his house was cordoned off and quarantined.
Just a few minutes later, a man in protective gear walked out. He started reporting his findings. However, all he was able to do was stand there with his mouth hanging wide open. What was it that he had found?
Taking A Walk
This story began in the spring of 2016. Steven Whitten was walking along Middleton Sands with his wife, Viola. This was their favorite stretch of beach in Lancashire, England. This beach had breathtaking views of the Irish Sea. Not to mention, it was just a stone’s throw away from their house in the village of Overton.
While Middleton Sands is a pretty popular area for hikers and dog owners, Steven and Viola loved walking in less crowded areas. They weren’t fond of the idea of being surrounded by people when they were trying to relax.
Something Was Off
As the two were taking in the view, Steven began noticing something. He noticed a strange, acrid smell in the air. He had absolutely no idea that he and his wife were about to come across something that would change their lives.
The smell was reminiscent of a rotting fish. The couple had never experienced anything like it before. Even though the smell was putting them off, the two were eager to find out the source of it. They kept on walking. Then, they noticed a grayish lump that was slightly smaller than a rugby ball.
The couple traced the horrible smell right to its source. Washed up on the beach was a very weird and odorous rock they couldn’t recognize. It was approximately the size of a football. It seemed to have been worn smooth by the waves. What could it have been?
Reaching out, Steven touched the rock slowly and gingerly. He had previously read about strange finds in beaches, especially in that area. However, he never heard of anything similar to this being found. His curiosity didn’t allow him to walk away.
Steven examined the smell but came to the conclusion that he had simply never experienced anything like it before. The scent was very bad, but at the same time, very distinct. “It was like a cross between squid and farmyard manure,” he recalled.
Just like many others, this couple had always dreamed of the day they would strike gold and become rich. Perhaps this day wasn’t so far off after all. What started as a normal day changed completely. They never saw it coming.
The Prossimo Step
The couple was wondering what they should do with the rock. Would they leave it there because of its awful odor? Would they take it home? The decision wasn’t an easy one. What do you think they decided to do?
Taking A Chance
This couple wasn’t ready to give up just yet. As we’ve said, they’ve always wanted to come across some money. There was a chance that the odd rock could be valuable, so they decided to take the risk. They really hoped it would be worth a lot of money. They wanted to buy a static caravan which they couldn’t afford at that moment.
Taking It Home
At last, Steven picked up the rock and wrapped it in Viola’s scarf. He wanted to ensure that it remained safe. Aside from that, he didn’t want anyone to catch a glimpse of what he had found. He couldn’t wait to go online and figure out what it was.
As soon as they got home, Steven used his scales to weigh the odd lump of rock. The reading said 3.5 pounds. This excited the two of them. Steven knew he needed some help if he was going to get to the bottom of this mystery.
Steven decided to turn to a community group on Facebook. He posted a picture of the supposed rock online. Soon enough, the post was flooded with comments to read. Just wait and see what happened after that.
Could It Be A Meteor?
People quickly responded, and many of them had very creative ideas. Some people were speculating if it was a piece of volcanic rock that came from deep in the ocean. Others claimed that the rock looked like a meteor.
The Possibilities Were Endless
An amateur meteorologist quickly suggested to Steven to try the “magnet test”. This was to figure out if it really was a meteor. The guy was convinced that he was right, but it turned out that all the people in the comment section were wrong.
“It feels like a rock-hard rubber ball, its texture is like wax, like a candle. When you touch it, you get wax sticking to your fingers,” Steven later explained during an interview. What could it have possibly been?
Panic Levels High
What was it about the weird rock that caused such a stir in the Whitton household? Once Steven held the mysterious object against a magnet, he knew it was finally the time to start panicking. We’re starting to get nervous too…
By this point, Steven was somewhat nervous to continue. He and his wife were experimenting with an unknown rock that they came across on the beach. Neither of them knew whether it was dangerous and could harm them. He had to be careful.
What Is The Magnet Test?
The magnet test is a good way to determine whether something is authentic gold. Fake gold will always attract magnets and stick to them. This little test allows people to check if what they own or found is real.
When Steven did the magnet test, he confirmed that the strange rock didn’t have any iron in it. What did that mean then? This meant that the object wasn’t a meteorite. Steven still hadn’t found an explanation for the terrible smell.
Things Were Picking Up
Steven came to the conclusion that he had no idea what he was dealing with. He didn’t even know if it could have been a dangerous object. So, he made a quick phone call. It was then that the men in protective suits came to his house.
By this point, it was obvious that Steven didn’t know what he was really dealing with. While people online were helping as much as they could, this situation was out of control. Steven needed to get help from experts, so he did just that. Just wait until you see what happens next.
Two officials came to the house and immediately cordoned it. Then, they went inside to dispose of the mysterious substance in a safe way. While this was happening, Steven and Viola were standing outside and giving the officials instructions. They waited patiently to see what would happen.
Getting To The Bottom Of It
The alleged “rock” that the couple discovered was put inside a box on their dining room table. After carefully examining it, the officials came back outside. They gave the couple the news. This completely shocked them.
At A Loss
Steven and Viola held each other close while patiently waiting to try and understand what the mystery was all about. Steven couldn’t help but think the worst. The rock was so odd looking. The expressions on the officials’ faces weren’t making things better.
When the officials told Steven that the rock wasn’t dangerous, he breathed a huge sigh of relief. It wasn’t just a piece of garbage that was thrown on the beach. However, when the officials told him what the rock actually was, his eyes grew wide. They told him they while it was extremely rare, chunks of ambergris would occasionally wash up on the shore. What is ambergris?
As it turns out, ambergris is a substance that has been highly coveted for centuries now. It’s famous for its terrible smell – “like a cross between squid and farmyard manure” – however, its smell sweetens with time. This substance has been used in perfumes for hundreds of years. Some historians have even believed that the substance is edible.
Ambergris is a whale by-product. It’s made in the bile ducts of whales and then it gets excreted. While that sounds rather gross, it’s found so rarely in nature that it’s worth a fortune to the right buyers. It just so happened that Steven and Viola came across some of it on a walk on the beach. They couldn’t believe their luck. However, there was a catch to all this.
Only produced by one specific species of whale, ambergris comes from the sperm whale. They can be found in oceans all over the world, including Britain’s coastal waters. These whales can grow to be 67 feet long and weigh more than 63 tons. While this whale’s population has increased, they weren’t always so prolific.
In the past, sperm whales were commonly hunted for their blubber. It was used to make anything from candles to soap and even machine oil or pencils. Ambergris was also harvested for its scent. Unfortunately, as many as one million whales were hunted and killed in the 19th and 20th centuries. However, in the 1980s, a ban on whaling was passed. This included ambergris.
Adding to the ambergris’ mystery and rarity, the substance is created very slowly. In fact, it takes years to produce. Not to mention, it’s thought that not all sperm whales are capable of producing it at all. Experts have said that only about 1% of the sperm whale population will produce it. Strangely enough, it’s mainly found in the Atlantic Ocean.
The trade of ambergris has been outlawed in most countries, including the United States. In America, trading ambergris illegally is only one part of a bigger ban on hunting and exploiting whales. Lucky for Steven, in the UK, ambergris is thought of as a waste product. So how much was it actually worth?
The Whittens were shocked to discover that a different lump of ambergris was found on the beach by a man in Morecambe. That wasn’t all that far from where Steven and Viola found their own. That piece was sold for an incredible $155,000! How much would the Whittens be able to make with their piece of “floating gold”?
Loads Of Cash
The piece of ambergris that was discovered in Morecambe weighed about 6 pounds. This means that it was twice the size of the Whitten’s piece. Still, that meant that their piece could sell for about $65,000! That’s a big amount of money for a piece of whale by-product. So, what did the Whittens end up doing?
Following Their Dreams
Would the couple decide to settle their debt or pay off their mortgage? Perhaps they would go into early retirement? They displayed a perfect example of “British restraint”. Steven said to the Daily Mirror: “If it is worth a lot of money, it will go a long way towards buying us a static caravan. It would be a dream come true.”