Ambergris treasure found in dead Texel whale

Ambergris from the dead Texel sperm whale

Translated from Ecomare museum on Texel island in the Netherlands:

Treasure discovered inside stranded whale – 13/04/02

The carcass of the sperm whale which beached in December on a sandbank near Texel has proved to be a valuable treasure-house. During the dissection of the animal by employees of Ecomare an exceptional amount of ambergris was found in its rectum. These smelly lumps are very rare and of great value to the perfume industry.


Last December the dead sperm whale washed ashore a few days after the humpback which had beached while still alive. Therefore it had hardly been in the news. The nearly 30-tonne adult male had died at sea and stranded on the Razende Bol. Sperm whales are the largest toothed whales on earth and are uncommon in the North Sea. Great was the surprise when out of the whale’s rectum came huge chunks of ambergris. It was already special to find a dead sperm whale, the discovery of the ambergris in the body made it exceptional. Normally, ambergris is defecated and therefore sometimes it is found in small quantities of no more than a few pounds on beaches. However, this sperm whale contained five chunks of ambergris with a total weight of 83 kilogram, accumulated in the rectum.

Cuttlefish beaks

Ambergris is found only in 1 of 100 sperm whale bodies, usually in small amounts. It is not clear why some sperm whales produce ambergris and others do not. Probably in order to defecate sharp parts in their food, like cuttlefish beaks, without damage to their entrails. Healthy sperm whales spit out these cuttlefish beaks when they are in their first or second stomach. In some sperm whales there is a leak between the 2nd and 3rd stomach, causing the sharp cuttlefish beaks to go further inside the gastrointestinal tract. The irritation which the sharp beaks cause there makes the sperm whale produce ambergris as a response. Usually that is just defecated, but sometimes large quantities of amber accumulate in the rectum and cause congestion like that.


Experts from France have looked at the ambergris for Ecomare, and on the basis of their estimation of quality, the value is estimated at hundreds of thousands of euros. For scientists, this discovery is of exceptional importance. So, the amber lumps went to the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine of the University of Utrecht for a CT scan and X-ray examination.


The amber of the Texel sperm whale will be sold. It is too precious to exhibit it. After consultation with the Ministry of Economic Affairs it became clear that any proceeds for Ecomare could benefit the objective of Ecomare: education and information about the Wadden Sea and North Sea. A small piece of the ambergris will remain at Ecomare and will be exhibited there next to the skeleton of the sperm whale. Of the total amount of ambergris, a cast has also been made which will become a museum exhibit as well. During the next months, the whale’s skeleton will be put together. The public will be able to see that.

New Ecomare whale exhibition hall, financed by this ambergris: here.

Dutch whales beached because of NATO war games?

This video is called Navy Sonar & Whales.

First, a humpback whale beached on Noorderhaaks desert island in the Netherlands.

A few days later, a dead sperm whale stranded on the same island.

There has been a lot of attention to attempts to save the humpback’s life, which ultimately did not succeed.

Another issue: why did these two whales beach so soon after each other, on the same island?

On his blog, Arjan Berkhuysen, director of the Wadden sea conservation organisation, discusses this question.

He writes that shortly before the beachings, there were NATO war games in the Wadden sea region. Military planes broke the sound barrier. The sound of these war games may have disoriented the whales. Like navy sonar causes whale deaths.

There is still no scientific consensus on why humpback Johanna and the sperm whale beached on Noorderhaaks.

Dutch humpback map: here.

Dutch humpback whale was female

The humpback whale on a Noorderhaaks island sandbar

Translated from Dutch news agency ANP:

December 18, 2012 5:04 p.m.

Humpback ‘Johannes’ is a female

TEXEL – The humpback whale which stranded and died on a sandbank near Texel was a female.

A spokeswoman for Naturalis Biodiversity Center, which investigates the animal, said so.

The beached whale was at one point called ‘Johannes’. This happened when it was alive and the sex could not yet be determined.

The investigation into the cause of death has not yet come to a conclusion. ”On the outside of the body no damage was found, for example, signs of a collision with a ship. Also, our first examination of the intestines has not established a cause yet” said the spokeswoman.

Samples of the animal will be subjected to microscopic examination.

The whale is called Johanna now, instead of Johannes (John in English).

A photo series is here.

This is a Dutch video about the investigation of the dead humpback whale.

In parliament, Minister Kamp has admitted that the government made mistakes after this whale beached; and that there should be improvements.

Humpback Johanna had ingested plastic: here.

Dutch humpback whale in Texel harbour

This video is called Humpback Whale Song.

Translated from Dutch NOS TV:

Humpback Johannes in Texel harbour

Tuesday, December 18, 2012, 00:26

Humpback Johannes has been towed to the port of the research institute NIOZ on Texel. Rijkswaterstaat staff made ​​use of the flood and refloated the dead animal, tying its tail to a pontoon boat.

It now floats in the port. Tomorrow a crane will hoist it ashore. There the whale will be investigated by research institute Naturalis.

The humpback whale was confirmed to be dead on Sunday. The animal had stranded last Wednesday on a sandbank. Attempts by Ecomare to rescue the animal had failed.

A photo of the whale being towed is here.

Naturalis museum on the stranded humpback: here.

Ecomare museum on the humpback: here.

This is a Dutch regional TV video, on transporting the dead humpback to Texel.

Update: on Tuesday night, a ship will try to bring the dead sperm whale to the harbour as well.

Sperm whale update: here.

Beached sperm whale, humpback videos update

This is a video recorded at Noorderhaaks island near Texel, the Netherlands, about an attempt to save the beached humpback whale Johannes. The video is from 13 December. The whale died yesterday, 16 December. The video shows two lifeboats trying to move the whale to deeper water, after a fairway had been dug.

This video is about the dead sperm whale, which beached on the same island days after the humpback whale.

Dead sperm whale update: here.

Beached humpback whale Johannes, RIP

The beached humpback whale, photo ANP

Translated from Dutch NOS TV:

Sunday, December 16, 2012, 09:30

The humpback whale which beached this Wednesday on a sandbank in the Wadden Sea is dead. Two employees of the seal rehabilitation center in Pieterburen have reported this.

The people of Lenie ‘t Hart [director of the seal rehabilitation center] had gone to the humpback trying to still save it. They did so despite a police ban area around the whale.

Last Friday the whale Johannes got a strong sedative after experts had stated that the animal could not survive anymore. Animal activists think that the government gave up on the animal much too soon.

See also here. And here.

This reminds me of years ago, when I was in the Antarctic. I saw a humpback whale jumping out of the sea.

RIP, Johannes! And thanks to all people of Ecomare museum, coast guard, lifeboats and others who tried to save you!

No thanks it all, it seems, to Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte and his government.

Ecomare museum on the death of the humpback whale: here.

Dutch stranded sperm whale, video

This is a video about the Dutch sperm whale, beached today on Noorderhaaks island, north of the humpback whale which had beached earlier.

Sperm whale, humpback beaching update

Noorderhaaks beached sperm whale today, photo René Pop

After the earlier beaching of a still living humpback whale on Noorderhaaks desert island near Texel island in the Netherlands, today another whale stranded on Noorderhaaks.

It is a male sperm whale. It is about 13 meter long.

As for the humpback, it is still alive, but said to be in a very bad condition. The Dutch government has decided to euthanize the animal with a painkiller tonight.

Ecomare museum which tried to save the whale, getting it swimming again, says this is the government’s decision, not theirs and they are not present near the humpback now. Sea Shepherd protests against the government decision. They say that with painkillers, one cannot euthanize a big whale.

Stranded humpback whale gets painkiller

This video is about the beached humpback whale.

Translated from Ecomare museum on Texel island, the Netherlands:


Yesterday, the Department of Economic Affairs which includes agriculture instructed two veterinarians to go and look at the humpback whale. When they found that the animal was suffering unbearably, the Ministry commissioned them to get the animal to sleep with a painkiller. They have done that on site. Today Mayor Giskes and an expert of Economic Affairs will look at the humpback. The expert will report to the Ministry how things are now with the animal.

Yesterday, there were messages on the Internet that the doctors had supposedly killed the whale.

It looks like that is not true. Ecomare said that the only way one can euthanize a big whale is with explosives; and they did not want that.

UPDATE: Ecomare says that maybe now an already dead sperm whale has beached on the same island. This could not be verified yet.

Dutch stranded humpback whale, rescue attempt video

This video is about the attempt to save the beached humpback whale on Noorderhaaks island near Texel, the Netherlands, in the evening of 13 December.

What will happen today?