A young Islandmagee girl thought she had struck gold recently, after she made a strange discovery on a local beach.
Beth Thompson was paddling at Browns Bay when she noticed an unusual rock floating a few feet out from the shore line.
The rock had a hard exterioir and a hard, white waxy interior.
When the six-year-old pointed it out to her father, he immediately suspected it could be ambergris – a rare lump of ‘whale vomit’ worth its weight in gold.
Ambergris is a fatty substance produced by sperm wahles to protect their intestines from the sharp beaks of squids.
It then spends years floating the world’s oceans before being washed up.
Ambergris is used in the production of perfume, making it an extremely valuable commodity.
Last year, a man walking his dog along a beach in Morecombe, England found a seven pound lump of ‘whale vomit’ worth £100,000.
Suspecting they had found a four-and-half-pound lump of ambergris, with a possible value of £50,000-£60,000, Beth and her dad carefully brought it home.
With the help of the internet, several ‘home’ tests were carried out with mixed results, but pair remained optimistic.
Beth’s dad said: “Ambergris is illegal in numerous countries around the world, as sperm whales are a protected species.
“This means there are only a few countries which are allowed to legally trade in ambergris.”
Photos of the rock were sent to companies who deal in ambergris in France, New Zeland and Dubai.
The pictures were also forwarded to Queens University marine biology department, who could not say for certain without scientific testing but claimed it looked very much like ambergris.
The excitement grew nearly as quickly as Beth’s shopping list.
A few days later Beth and her father were brought back down to Earth when the company in France got it touch.
The news was not good. The experts had examined the photos they had received and they believed the rock was not ambergris.
Over the next few days, another company in New Zeland also declared the rock was not ambergris.
So what was this strange. waxy rock? There were numerous suggestions when pictures of the rock were posted on Facebook – from the distusting to the ridiculous –but it is believed that the rock is actually a lump of palm oil, which has been accidental spilt or washed off a palm oil refinery ship.
Beth’s dad said: “The oil hits the cold ocean waters and solidifies in large lumps. It also floats around on the oceans currents before occassionally being washed ashore. Several lumps of palm oil have been recently washed up along the south coast of England.
“There is a warning in place for anyone finding Palm Oil, as it is harmful to dogs.”
He added: “I have had to take Beth to the beach several times since she found the strange rock.
“I think we’ll be spending quite a bit of time at the beach this summer.”
Beth joked: “I will now always be looking for strange rocks floating when I’m paddling.”