Squid beaks are important for another reason: they help to produce ambergris. As Robert Clarke—the preeminent world expert on ambergris—explains in “The Origin of Ambergris” from 2006, included in the ton of squid a sperm whale eats daily are several thousand squid beaks. Like cows and other ruminants, a sperm whale has four stomachs. Food passes from one stomach to the next and is digested along the way. Steadily, after repeated dives and bouts of voracious feeding a mile beneath the surface, the stomachs slowly begin to fill with nondigested squid remains: great drifts of sharp, black, durable squid beaks,which coalesce to form a large dense glittering mass. Every couple of days, a sperm whale will vomit them into the ocean. This is normal. Importantly, the product, a floating slurry of indigestible material, is not ambergris. It is whale vomit. The two could not possibly be confused with one another. Despite newspaper headlines to the contrary, ambergris is not vomited or coughed up by sperm whales. Robbie Anderson’s ambergris—picked up on Long Beach, tucked beneath his arm like a warm baguette, and taken home to Robert, Sr.—was not “spat out by a sperm whale that swam past coastal Otago,” as stated in the New Zealand Herald news report a few days later. To produce ambergris, other processes—complex pathologies—are required. Occasionally, the mass of squid beaks and pens makes its way through each of the whale’s four cavernous stomachs and into its looping convoluted intestines instead. Once there, it can become ambergris.
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