Million-dollar belch: Yemeni fishermen celebrate whale vomit find

A dead whale hauled ashore contained ambergris, a highly prized substance that fetches a price higher than gold

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A group of lucky fishermen in southern Yemen stand to become overnight millionaires after finding a large blob of ambergris inside a dead whale they hauled to shore.

The waxy substance, generally found floating in the seas after being expelled from the digestive system of sperm whales, is particularly prized by perfume makers and fetches a price higher than gold.

The whale's carcass was spotted about 30 kilometres out in the Gulf of Aden on Saturday, according Mohammed Abdo, from Al Khaisa area in Al Bouraika district of Aden, who is one of the fishermen in line for a share of the good fortune.

"I and three of my colleagues found a big dead whale floating while fishing with fishermen from Shoukra area in Abyan and others from Al Khokha area in Hodeidah. We made the discovery 18 miles from Al Tawahi in eastern Aden," Mr Abdo told The National.

“The whale was very big. We couldn’t grab it so we called all the fishermen around to help us pull it to the shore.”

Working together, 37 fishermen used their boats to drag the whale carcass to Dounafa beach, a small isolated stretch of shoreline near Al Tawahi, where they cut open its stomach and extracted the ambergris.

Lucky fishermen in Aden found big whale vomit worth up to billions. Ali Mahmood Mohamed for The National
Fishermen in Aden pose around the ambergris they recovered from a dead whale they found at sea on February 13, 2021. Ali Mahmood for The National

The ambergris weighed 127 kilograms, according to another of the fishermen, who asked not be identified.

“Many perfume businessmen from Gulf states contacted us offering to buy it. One businessman sent his representative with an offer of 45,000 Saudi riyals [$12,000] per kilo if the blob is proven to be of high quality,” he said.

The average annual income in Yemen is about 200,000 rials – $800 at the current official exchange rate – with many people struggling to make ends meet after six years of civil war.

When The National visited Al Khaisa on Sunday, dozens of armed men were guarding the house where the fishermen stored the ambergris. The house was surrounded by cars and people, some of whom came to make bids while others were drawn by the story of poor fishermen who stood to become overnight millionaires.

“We want to strike a deal to sell it as soon as possible, because the longer it stays the more challenging the situation will become,” the man said.

“We have had a big quarrel over how the money should be shared.”

The fishermen did not allow photos of the ambergris, instead sharing video footage of them bringing in the whale carcass.