Unexpected windfall comes to Ngati Hinewaka

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(NZPA) Maori from a South Wairarapa marae have found a big chunk of whale ambergris, worth thousands of dollars, while burying the corpse of a stranded sperm whale that had been mutilated by vandals.

They said they would use the unexpected windfall to renovate their South Wairarapa marae and build new kitchens, the Wairarapa Times-Age reported.

Ngati Hinewaka spokesman and kaitiaki Haami Te Whaiti said the 40kg mass of ambergris was discovered last August by him and a dozen other people from Kohunui Marae at Pirinoa.

Ambergris is a wax-like substance secreted in sperm whale intestines, and it protects the whale’s stomach from its abrasive diet of beaked squid. It has been used for centuries as a fixative for expensive perfumes, as it traps aroma on the skin for long periods.

The 40kg find was equivalent to the normal total annual export of the substance, which sometimes washes up on west coast beaches in Northland.

A Dargaville-based broker, Adrienne Beuse, said up to $10,000/kg more could be paid to the finder of highest quality white ambergris washed up on a beach, and as much as $40,000/kg was paid inside the perfumeindustry.

When brokers were contacted, potential buyers flew to Wairarapa from France and America and the ambergris was eventually sold to a French company, although Mr Te Whaiti could not disclose the amount paid under the terms of the sale.

“It was a lot of money – that’s all I can say,” he said.

But he said there were now serious concerns that publicising the discovery could increase the risk of scavengers mutilating more whales in future.

The group found the ambergris while burying the remains of an 18m bull sperm whale which had been mutilated and set alight by people who stole its jawbone, which is valued for carving.

“Finding the ambergris, for all of us, felt right,” Mr Te Whaiti said. “It was a gift from the whale, from the ocean – our ancestors, our tipuna, taking care of us.”

NZPA

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