By Ashleigh / Dec 1, 2022
Not As It Seemed
He found it on the beach and soon realized it wasn’t a typical “rock.” That’s when he rushed to call for help. Watching his house be blocked off and quarantined, he felt helpless and didn’t know what would happen next.
A man dunning protective gear stepped out a few minutes later and told him what he had found. He was too stunned to speak.
When it began, Steven Whitten was walking along Middelton Sands with his wife, Viola. It was Spring in 2016, but out of all Lancashire, England, it was their favorite stretch of beach.
They could see the breathtaking views from the Irish Sea where they walked on the beach. It wasn’t far from Overton, where they lived.
Hikers and dog owners frequented Middleton Sands, but Steven and Viola stayed clear of them. They veered off towards the quieter parts of the beach, preferring that more.
Steven was broken out of his trance when admiring the view by an unpleasant smell. They continued walking, hoping to be rid of the stench, but they had no idea that their lives were about to change.
The couple seemed unable to get rid of the smell and found something washed ashore. It was the size of a football, and the strange rock was the source of the unpleasant odors. They could tell the waves had churned it for years because of its smooth and waxy texture.
But they still had no clue what they had found. Why did it have that smell?
A Curious Find
Steven was cautious as he approached the rock, recalling stories of people finding strange objects at the beach. But he had never heard mention of the area before.
He was too curious to leave the rock behind and asked Viola if he could use her scarf to wrap it up. He had an idea about the rock but wanted to confirm them online.
Beaming At Eachother
Steven rushed for his fisherman’s scales the minute they stepped into the house. He and his wife beamed at each other when they saw the strange rock weighing 3.5 pounds.
Steven snapped a picture and posted it on a Facebook community group. It wasn’t long before the comments began flooding through.
The comments varied about the origins of the rock. Some said it looked like a meteor, but others insisted it looked like a volcanic rock from deep under the ocean.
Steven read a comment from an amateur meteorologist. He said the best way to know for sure is by using the “magnet test.” They had no idea how far they were from the truth.
The Magnet Test
Steven explained that it had a candle-wax-type feel when interviewed, but the wax would still be to your fingers. But that wasn’t all. He also said that it felt like a “rock-hard rubber ball.”
Steven panicked when he used the magnet test on the object. But why were the Whittens so afraid? What did it mean?
They discovered that the “rock” had no iron after the magnet test. The meteorite theory was, therefore, debunked. But they still wondered where the object’s foul smell was coming from.
Steven grew concerned. He had no idea if the object was harmful because he had no idea what he was dealing with. It wasn’t long before he called for assistance and opened his home to men in protective suits.
The Officials Arrived
His house was closed off by two officials. Steven and his wife were safe outside, and he explained to them that the “rock” was in the box on the dining room table. Everyone wanted to dispose of the strange object safely.
The couple grew anxious during the few minutes it took for the officials to examine the object carefully. What would they find?
Steven was relieved when the officials told him that he hadn’t picked up a hazardous piece of waste on the beach, but when they told him what the “rock” really was, his eyes widened.
They said that, while extremely rare, hunks of ambergris do wash up on the shore from time to time. But what is ambergris?
As it turns out, ambergris has been a highly coveted substance for centuries. It is known for its foul smell — “like a cross between squid and farmyard manure” — but its odor sweetens over time.
In fact, ambergris has been used in expensive perfumes for hundreds of years. Some historians believe that it may even be edible.
Ambergris is actually a whale by-product. It is produced in the bile ducts of whales and then excreted. While this sounds revolting, it is so rarely found in nature that it’s worth a fortune to the right buyer.
Steven and Viola had just stumbled upon it on a beach walk! They couldn’t believe their luck! But, of course, there was a catch…
Ambergris is only produced by one species of whale, the sperm whale. Sperm whales are found in oceans all around the world, including Britain’s coastal waters. Individuals can grow to a length of 67 feet, and their weights have been recorded at over 63 tons.
While sperm whale populations have increased, these majestic creatures were not always so prolific.
In the past, sperm whales were commonly hunted for their blubber, which was used to make everything from candles and soap to machine oil and pencils. Indeed, ambergris was also harvested for its unique scent.
Sadly, as many as one million whales were killed during the 19th and 20th centuries. Then, in the 1980s, a ban on whaling was passed — which included ambergris.
Adding to ambergris’ mystique and rarity is the fact that it is only created very slowly — over years. It is also believed that not all sperm whales produce it.
Experts say that only around one percent of the sperm whale population will produce the coveted substance. And oddly enough, it is mostly found in the Atlantic ocean.
The trade of ambergris has been outlawed in most countries, including the United States. In America. The illegality of trading ambergris forms a part of a wider ban on the hunting and exploitation of whales.
But luckily for Steven, in the United Kingdom, ambergris is considered a waste product. So, just how much was it worth?
Well, the Whittens were surprised to learn that another lump of ambergris had been found on the beach by a man in Morecambe, which wasn’t far from where Steven and Viola had found theirs. And that piece had fetched a staggering $155,000!
So, how much would the Whittens get for their piece of “floating gold?”
A Ton Of Cash
The piece of ambergris that had been found in Morecambe weighed around six pounds — it was twice as large as the Whitten’s piece. Still, that meant that the ambergris could fetch around $65,000. That’s a staggering amount of money for a piece of whale by-product!
So, what do Steven and Viola intend to do with their windfall?
Following Their Dreams
Would they settle their debt or pay off their mortgage? Or perhaps go into early retirement?
Michal Fabry/Creative Commons
Well, in a perfect example of “British restraint,” Steven humbly 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.”
Washing Up On Shore
There are quite a lot of things that wash up on beaches, especially after storms. Some of those discoveries are gruesome, others are shocking, and some are just worth a good laugh.
But unfortunately, most of those finds, unlike Steven’s, aren’t worth anything. Sure, people take pictures of them and have stories to tell, but that’s about it.
The most common things that wash up on beaches, especially after storms, are the carcasses of sea life. It could be a whale or sometimes even a dolphin. But such things aren’t worth any money.
At most, it’s the cost of getting rid of them that leaves the biggest impact.
Some others are just amazing sights, like the giant lego that washed up on a beach or the shipping container full of rubber ducks that fell overboard and caused thousands of yellow floaties to spread across the world.
At least the rubber ducks helped us get more insight into the ocean currents but other than that, it was just an amusing sight.
What Lies Beneath
But what about the discoveries that never made it to the shore? The ones that remain hidden beneath the surface for hundreds of years, waiting to be discovered?
Beneath the blue depths of the oceans we all know and love, there’s a whole world’s worth of discoveries waiting for someone to unearth them.
The Florida Keys
A few of these discoveries are hidden in the waters of the Florida Keys. And they’re not as deep as you might think they are. Of course, there are some that need giant expeditions with huge ships and small submarines or thousands of dollars worth of equipment.
But there are some that can be found with nothing more than some diving gear.
Beneath the waters of the Keys, there are a few shipwrecks that were discovered, but it’s a set of six that took the world by storm in 2016. These six ships were thought to have belonged to the French when they were initially discovered.
But the theory changed later on.
Where Did They Come From?
The company that discovered the wrecks thought the ships belonged to the French since some of the cannons they found at the sight were French. But after doing some research, they changed their minds.
Considering that one of the French colonies was raided by the Spanish at the time, the company concluded that the ships must’ve been Spanish.
Spanish Armada Ships
It is believed that the ships were part of the Spanish Armada and that the cannons were aboard because they had taken them after the raid. GME also believes that the ships they found were heading for Havana, Cuba.
If that was the case, how on earth did they end up sinking in the Florida Keys?
A Heavy Storm
Apparently, there was a massive storm on the night the ships set sail. The majority of the fleet made it past the Keys before the storm hit, but the ones who left later were caught in the midst of the storm and didn’t manage to make it out.
They’ve been there since the 16th century!
That is until GME came along in 2015. It was late September when the company sent some divers out to survey the area off the coast of Cape Canaveral. Given that they had permits to search the seven areas off the coast, they set out.
And during a dive one day, one of the divers stumbled upon the shipwreck.
What Was Found Within?
At first, the diver found nothing more than debris from the rockets NASA launched in the area over the years. But then they dug a bit and ended up finding 19 cannons, 12 anchors, and ammunition from the ships.
They also found a large number of French Artifacts aboard the ships.
Lots Of Gold Coins
But GME wasn’t the only ones to discover Spanish ships or treasures in the waters of Florida. Between 2010 and 2013, divers from Blanchard and Co. made a shocking discovery off the coast of Vero Beach.
They found 11 Spanish ships that had sank due to a hurricane in 1715. Aboard those ships were a large number of gold coins.
The firm began marketing the three-hundred-year-old gold coins, of which 295 were found. It is said that the combined value of the coins is more than one million dollars. And surprisingly, the discovery was made beneath only 6 feet of water.
Which leads us to wonder, what else is out there? And is it worth going to look for these treasures?
Was It Worth It?
Such finds carry immense value, but in recent times the discoverers don’t always get to enjoy the fruits of their labors. There are laws stating that treasure hunters will only be offered a finders fee.
But that doesn’t really make it worth it for people who invest millions of dollars to seek out such treasures. That is something GME learned the hard way.
Matter Of Debate
Their case ended up in court, and a judge ruled that they had no right to the treasure they discovered, which was worth millions of dollars. The judge stated that the treasure belonged to France and that they would have the final say in what happened to the artifacts.
But GME isn’t just going to give up their loot so easily. They sued the state for damages and are planning on appealing the court’s decision.
In order to protect the privacy of those depicted, some names, locations, and identifying characteristics have been changed and are products of the author’s imagination. Any resemblances to actual events, places, or persons, living or dead, are entirely coincidental.