Steven Whitten was walking on the sandy shores of a beach when he stumbled upon what he thought was an amazing discovery. It was a rock, but it was unlike any he had ever seen before. So, he did what most people would do and he took it home with him.
Then he decided to call an expert to take a closer look at the foul smelling object. But something surprising happened. He found his home quarantined from the rest of the neighborhood by men in scary-looking hazmat suits as soon as he started investigating the item.
It Began With an Innocent Walk
It was the spring of 2016 and Steven Whitten was walking on Middleton Sands in Lancashire, England with his wife, Viola. This was his favorite spot because not only did it provide a great view of the Irish Sea, but it was also within walking distance of his home, Overton.
It Was a Hot Spot for People
Hikers and pet owners often frequented the shores of Middleton Sands, but Whitten and Viola preferred to stroll in a less crowded area so they could relax, enjoy the scenery and appreciate each other's company. Unfortunately, something in the air messed with their picture perfect moment.
There Was a Foul Smell in the Air
During their walk, Whitten caught a whiff of an odious stench in the air. Since the shore often brought all kinds of scents, both pleasant and foul, he had no idea that he was about to encounter an object that was truly life altering.
It Smelled Like Decay
The stench was eerily similar to that of decay and they both assumed that a rotting fish had washed up on the shore. But they didn't see one anywhere near their vicinity, so they decided to follow their noses towards the source and that's when they found a lump of gray matter.
They Followed the Smell to Its Source
The couple continued to sniff the air like a pair of hound dogs until they stumbled upon a weird looking rock that was about the size of a football. And from its appearance, it seemed as though the waves had somehow made the rock smooth over time. But was it really a rock?
He Decided to Touch the Rock
Whitten had read about people finding strange things at the beach, particularly in the area he and his wife were standing in. But he had not heard of anyone finding anything remotely similar to this rock, which he touched carefully.
The Stench Was Unique
As he continued to examine the rock he was holding in his bare hands, he tried to identify what he was smelling. The scent was very bad, but at the same time, very distinct. “It was like a cross between squid and farmyard manure,” he claimed. But would this discovery make him rich?
They Were Pondering What To Do With the Rock
Whitten and his wife debated what to do with the rock. At first, they considered leaving it on the beach since it smelled awful. But then they thought about taking it home with them. Would they live to regret their decision?
He Thought He Had Won the Jackpot
Whitten had heard of people who played the lottery or discovered a random object and became instant millionaires. Had he won the jackpot with this foul smelling rock? He assumed he had, but it turned out that this rock was about to change his life in a different way.
They Took a Risk
Although the couple was turned off by the smell, they couldn't ignore the potential value of this unusual rock. They did have dreams, after all, one of which included buying a static caravan. And this rock could potentially give them the money to buy one.
He Wrapped Up the Rock to Take it Home
Whitten asked his wife, Viola, to let him borrow her scarf, which she gave to him freely. Then he used the scarf to wrap the rock with, so no one else could see what it was that they were carrying. But he knew he would need to do some research to figure out what exactly this rock was.
He Weighed the Rock
The first thing Whitten did when he got home was weigh the rock on his scale. It read 3.5 pounds. This was a great first step, but he still needed assistance in understanding this rock and its origin. So he turned to a higher power.
The Internet Was Their Higher Power
When people find something unknown to them, they generally go on Google to search for information. Unfortunately, that doesn't always pan out, so it may become necessary to get some extra opinions, and this was something Whitten desperately needed.
It Was Like a Worldwide Think Tank
One of the greatest assets of the internet is that it connects everyone around the world simultaneously. In essence, it's like a massive think tank in situations like this. And while not everyone can provide the right answer in any given situation, Whitten was sure that someone could help him figure out what this stinky rock was.
He Asked the Internet for Help
Whitten posted a photo of the rock on a Facebook community group. He hoped that netizens would have some idea of what this thing was, and his hunch was correct. Eventually, people started commenting on the post. But were any of them right?
Some People Thought It Was a Meteor
Netizens had a number of theories, some of which were literally out of this world. One person suggested that this rock was a meteor that fell from the sky, but others felt that the rock was a lot closer to home.
Others Suggested It Was a Volcanic Rock
One person theorized that the item was a volcanic rock that resurfaced from the ocean floor. A volcanic rock is formed when lava erupts from a volcano. When it lands in water, it eventually cools down and hardens. But there was only one way to find out if this rock was from Earth or from outer space.
An Amateur Meteorologist Weighed In
An amateur meterologist told Whitten to figure out if the rock was a meteor by performing a magnet test. Like the other commenters, he believed he was correct. But soon, Whitten discovered that no one was even close in identifying the true nature of the rock.
Its Texture Was Waxy Like a Candle
“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,” Whitten said in an interview. His description didn't sound like a rock at all. So, what was it really?
He Exposed the Rock to a Magnet
With each passing hour, Whitten's curiosity over the rock he found increased. But things really took an interesting turn when he placed the rock close to a magnet. The reaction was so strange that he got a little scared.
He Was Getting Nervous
Whitten and his wife initially thought that what they had found on the beach was a harmless rock that smelled bad. But they had started to realize that they were messing with something they didn't fully understand. Was the item actually dangerous?
The Magnet Test Was Used to ID Gold
The magnet test was designed to help people figure out if an object that looked like gold was in fact gold. In the past, gold diggers were often fooled by fake gold, which looks a lot like the real thing but is actually worthless.
Fake Gold Would Stick to the Magnet
If the object was fake gold, then it would stick to the magnet right away. But was the rock attracted to the magnet or was it repelled? What exactly did happen when Whitten used the test on the rock?
There Was No Iron In the Rock
The test confirmed that the rock had no iron in it, so there was no way that this was a meteorite. This ruled out one theory, but Whitten had already started to get frustrated. And since the internet hadn't helped, he figured he would pick up the phone and call someone.
He Got Some Unexpected Visitors
He made a call because he had no idea where to go with his investigation, but the people he had just called would probably shed a better light on this mystery. At least, that's what he thought. And then, a bunch of men in Hazmat suits arrived at his property.
The Experts Began Their Investigation
Whitten wasn't sure if he had made the right decision by seeking the help of experts, but he felt he was on the right track. And yet, a part of him couldn't help but worry that things had gotten out of hand. Then things took a turn for the worse.
Their House Was Cordoned Off
Officials cordoned off his property right away. Then they walked inside the house, grabbed the mysterious rock, and placed it in a safety container while Whitten and Viola waited patiently outside.
They Examined the Rock on the Dining Table
Experts placed the safety container with the rock inside on the couple's dining room table. From there they examined it to determine if it was much of a threat to the couple's health. Then the officials walked outside to speak to Whitten and Viola.
They Braced Themselves for the News
The couple had no idea what they had just brought into their home, but they did their bests to wait patiently until officials were done with their investigation. Then, the experts approached them with a grim look on their faces. What had they discovered?
The Rock's True Threat Level Was Revealed
The officials told the couple that the rock was not radioactive and didn't contain any type of chemical that could have hurt the couple or polluted the environment. In essence, it was harmless. But what was it exactly?
The Rock's True Nature
The rock did not come from outer space and it wasn't volcanic rock. It wasn't a pierce of trash either. According to the experts, it was an ambergris chunk which had washed up on the beach. But what exactly is ambergris?
Ambergris is a Rare Discovery
Ambergris is known for it's initial smell, which is foul. Fortunately, it is said that the scent gets better over time. In fact, people have used its scent as perfume and it may even be edible, according to some historians. But where does it come from?
It's Excreted By Whales
Ambergris is formed in a whale's bile ducts, which is then excreted. Although some people might find this disgusting, some buyers are willing to pay a high price for this whale by-product which is very difficult to come across. But do all whales produce ambergris?
What is Ambergis Used For?
Scientists have theorized that ambergris was designed to coat objects capable of causing irritation in the intestines of a whale. The ambergris is eventually flushed out of the body either as feces or as vomit.
Only Specific Whales Make Ambergris
Ambergris is produced by the sperm whale. This beautiful mammal is often seen swimming along the coastal waters of Great Britain. These whales are known for weighing over 63 tons and they can grow up to 57 feet in length. But there weren't always this many of them in the ocean.
Sperm Whales Were Endangered
In the 19th and 20th centuries, approximately one million sperm whales were killed by humans and their ambergris was extracted. People would then use this byproduct to make all sorts of items with what was once nothing more than an excretion.
Ambergris was Turned Into Useful Objects
The ambergris would eventually get taken to a factory where it would get turned into common objects such as pencils, machine oil, soap, candles and scents. But this is a practice that is no longer possible in many parts of the world.
Whaling Became Illegal
Like other whale species, such as humpback whales, the sperm whales' population was quickly diminishing. But all hope wasn't lost. In the 1980s, an international whaling ban was successfully passed. Ambergris extraction was also prohibited, not that it was easy to acquire.
Ambergris Was Extremely Rare
Sperm whales don't produce ambergris in abundance. It takes years to make one mass assuming one is even produced at all. But that's not the only reason why finding ambergris is like hitting the jackpot.
Not All Whales Can Produce Ambergris
It turns out that only 1% of sperm whales are capable of making ambergris. But people who have been fortunate to find ambergris by chance have done so in the viscinity of the Atlantic Ocean. However, trading a piece of it isn't quite so easy.
This Byproduct Was Outlawed
Many countries, like the United States, have considered ambergris to be contraband and have outlawed trading it. This was done to prevent whaling ships from needlessly going after whales and reducing their population.
Whitten Did Not Break Any Laws
Fortunately for Whitten, ambergris was simply considered a byproduct in the United Kingdom, nothing more. Therefore, he had not broken any laws in his country. But how much money did he stand to make from his discovery?
Another Man Made a Similar Discovery
The Whittens had learned that they were not the only ones who had stumbled on a piece of this rare whale byproduct. It turns out that a man in Morecambe found a piece of ambergris on the beach, too. But what did he do with it?
He Made Some Serious Cash
The piece that the man in Morecambe found was sold for a whopping $155,000. This excited Whitten and his wife, Viola because they began pondering the possibility of earning some extra cash. But would they get the same amount or more?
The Ambergris Was Half the Size
The ambergris piece found in Morecambe weighed approximately 6 pounds. This made it twice as big as the ambergris blubber that Whitten had found at the beach. Did this mean that he was going to earn less than $155,000?
The Whittens Got Some Money
Whitten realized he wasn't going to earn as much as the man in Morecambe, but he still made a decent amount of cash. How much? $65,000 to be exact. While it might not have been $155,000, it was still a huge lump sum for a piece of whale byproduct. So what did the Whittens do with their money?
The Possibilities Were Endless
There was a lot they could do with $65,000. They could settle some of their credit card debts or use it to pay off a huge chunk of their mortgage. They could even retire earlier than they expected. But Whitten had different plans.
He Wanted to Make His Dream Come True
The couple considered a lot of different options when it came to the money, but they eventually settled on one idea. Whitten told 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.”
Metal Detectors Aren't Required to Make Money
If the Whitten's experience can teach people anything it's that there's no need to bring heavy metal detectors to the beach to search for buried treasure. Sometimes, the most lucrative items come from the excretions of a sperm whale.
Sometimes a Rock is Just a Rock
Not all stinky rocks found on the shores of a beach are worth a lot of money. In fact, in 2013, a guy was walking his dog on the beach when he thought he had found some Ambergris worth about $154,000. But in 2015, it was discovered that the rock was just a rock.