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Waxy substance (about 80% cholesterol) formed in the intestine of sperm whales, used chiefly as a spice in the East and for fixing the scent of fine perfumes in the West. It is thought to form as a collection of feces around indigestible parts of squid and other prey of the whale. Fresh ambergris is soft, black, and smelly; exposed to sunlight, air, and seawater, it hardens, fades, and develops a pleasant scent. It may wash ashore or be found floating or in the bodies of slaughtered whales. Pieces are usually small, but the largest have weighed almost 1,000 lb (450 kg).
This entry comes from Encyclopædia Britannica Concise. For the full entry on ambergris, visit Britannica.com.