Yemeni fishermen spend 'whale vomit' fortunes on cars, boats and homes

Ambergris found in dead whale was sold for $12,000 per kilo to Gulf businessman

A group of poor Yemeni fishermen have gone on a spending spree after selling a large blob of highly valuable ambergris they found inside a dead whale hauled to shore two weeks ago.

Most of the men invested their money towards improving their lives, buying modern fishing boats or building homes, said one of the fishermen who spoke to The National.

Others used their share from the sale to help relatives set themselves up in life.

"A representative of a businessman from a Gulf state came to us and examined the blob, which he found to be of a high quality," said the fisherman, who asked not to be identified.

"The man paid 45,000 Saudi riyals ($12,000) for each kilo of ambergris," he said.

Most of the fishermen who benefitted from the ambergris sale come from the coastal village of Al Khaisa in western Aden. Ali Mahmood for The National
Most of the fishermen who benefitted from the ambergris sale come from the coastal village of Al Khaisa in western Aden. Ali Mahmood for The National

The waxy substance, secreted by the digestive system of sperm whales, is prized by perfume makers for making scents last longer.

The fishermen had told The National soon after their find on February 13 that the ambergris blob weighed 127 kilograms – which would put its sale price at $1.5 million.

"The money was equally shared between 37 fishermen," the fisherman said.

"In addition, shares were allocated to those who guarded us while negotiating and those who guarded the heaps of money."

Asked how he planned to spend his share, the fisherman said the first thing he bought was a fishing boat.

"I had never dreamed that one day I would have my own fishing boat!

"I spent years hiring a boat or working for other people as a daily worker," he said.

"I still can't believe that I have bought a big, modern fishing boat and a piece of land to build my own house."

Fishing boats moored off the village of Al Khaisa in Yemen's southern Aden province. Ali Mahmood for The National
Fishing boats moored off the village of Al Khaisa in Yemen's southern Aden province. Ali Mahmood for The National

For Mousa Al Askari, 29, whose older brother was one of the lucky fishermen, the discovery was a gift from Allah to poor, forgotten people.

"My brother paid for me to get married and bought a car, a new fishing boat and started building a new house for me and two other siblings," Mr Al Askari told The National, while watching an excavator prepare the site for the new house in Al Khaisa village on Aden's west coast.

The only restaurant in Al Khaisa, where fishermen stored the ambergris under armed guard find until they found a buyer. Ali Mahmood for The National
The only restaurant in Al Khaisa, where fishermen stored the ambergris under armed guard find until they found a buyer. Ali Mahmood for The National

His cousin, Ashraf Al Askari, who helped to guard the ambergris during the sale negotiations, said the majority of the newly wealthy fishermen travelled to the eastern provinces of Hadramawt and Al Mahra the day after receiving their money to buy cars.

"Some others bought fishing boats and started building houses," he said.

"They struck a deal to sell the treasure in a hurry because some people were pushing the fishermen to fight with each other so that the police could find a pretext to interfere," he said.

Although the ambergris been sold, people are still visiting Al Khaisa, where most of the lucky fishermen come from, to see if there are any leftover pieces for sale as it is believed to have medicinal uses.

Young men from the village visit the spot where the whale was cut open, looking for any undiscovered chunks of ambergris left in the carcass.

Struck by story of instant wealth, some have extracted the oil from the whale's head to sell.

Updated: February 27, 2021 01:01 PM

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