Cape Town - Retired businessman Fred Kuys has been rubbing his hands a lot recently – partly in anticipation of making a lot of money, and partly because he has been washing his hands repeatedly to get rid of a bad smell.
The cause of the smell, and the likely source of a small fortune, is the ambergris – or, less politely, whale vomit – he and his wife, Val found recently while walking on Grotto Beach in Hermanus with two visitors from Britain.
Fred Kuys studied zoology at university and taught biology briefly before turning to business, but he had no idea what the strange but evil-smelling object was.
“I’m fairly clued up on what goes on around the ocean, but this was just something I’d never seen before.”
During their discussions, one of his visitors recalled a recent incident at Morecambe Bay Beach in Lancaster, England, where a man had found a piece of ambergris that possibly fitted this bill and which had sold for £100 000 (about R1.3-million).
So Kuys took the object home and called the Dyer Island Conservation Trust, in Gansbaai, which has dedicated marine biologists, to see whether staff there could help identify it.
The trust’s operations manager, Alouise Lynch, met Kuys the next day and thought the sample looked – and smelled – more like whale faeces.
But Lynch took it for an analysis and said her colleague, marine biologist Michelle Wcisel, had been “excited” and believed it was ambergris.
Waxy-like ambergris is produced in the digestive system of sperm whales, possibly to protect the gut from sharp objects the animals may ingest. It was once highly sought after in perfumery as a fixing agent, and although there are now synthetic alternatives, it commands high prices – as much as $20 (R181) a gram.
Kuys is having the nature of his treasure confirmed by another marine biologist and will then decide what to do with it.
He has been washing his hands, desperately trying to get rid of the foul smell.
“It is the most vile-smelling stuff I’ve ever come across in my life. I washed my hands as thoroughly as any surgeon would have scrubbed up, but the smell still wouldn’t go away.” - Cape Argus