Whale poo? From Moby Dick to Shalimar | MMOT Lunchtime Talks series

Presented by Michael Stoddart,  author and researcher
Ambergris is a faecal product of the sperm whale that encloses squid beaks as they travel through the whale’s long gut passage.  It is usually released after the whale dies, though sometimes it is the cause of the whale’s death. It can be found floating on the sea or washed up on the coast. It is also sometimes found in the abdomens of dead sperm whales. But it is exceptionally rare, as it is produced by only a very small number of sperm whales. The colour and smell of ambergris depends upon its age. When freshly voided it is black in colour, quite soft and has a strong faecal smell. As it weathers it assumes a seaweedy, musky, earthy smell and gradually turns grey. In this state it has been used for centuries as a condiment, aphrodisiac and pharmaceutical. It imparts an animalistic quality to a perfume’s volatile floral notes, and extends the perfume’s life.
The manner in which sperm whales were pursued and killed from flimsy whale boats is the stuff of legend. Herman Melville tells of Captain Ahab’s personal crusade of revenge against Moby Dick, a white sperm whale that had bitten off his leg and which eventually drags him to his death. While whalemen sought sperm whales for the waxy matter in the whale’s head (which brought them $19,000 per barrel), ambergris was never the object of whaling.
This presentation covers the history of knowledge about ambergris and its collection, as well as the use of ambergris in the creation of the world’s finest perfumes, incense and holy anointing oils. In a former life, Michael was a university scientist researching the sense of smell in animals and humans. This work introduced him to the world’s finest perfume, Shalimar, created by the Guerlain perfume house in 1925.
Professor Michael Stoddart is a researcher and committee member at the Maritime Museum of Tasmania and the author of Tassie’s Whale Boys, published in 2017. Michael worked as Chief Scientist at the Australian Antarctic Division from 1998 to 2008. Previously he had an impressive academic career in Scotland and the United Kingdom, before his appointment as Professor of Zoology at the University of Tasmania in 1985 and to the position of Deputy Vice-Chancellor at the University of New England in 1993.
Time: 12.00-1.00pm, Tuesday 6 March 2018
Place: Royal Society Room, Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery, Customs House, 19 Davey St entrance.

Phone the Maritime Museum on 6234 1427 for more details or email john.wadsley@maritimetas.org