'Frightful' discovery on Aussie beach some think could be worth a fortune

If some guesses are correct, the find could be worth over $59,000 per kilogram based on previous sales.

A large, stinking lump has been found off of an Aussie beach and while some have speculated the "frightful" object could be a rotting sponge, others have guessed it could actually be worth a fortune.

The browny-grey mystery find was picked up by locals on Pirates Bay Beach in Eaglehawk Neck, Tasmania and shared with a local group online in search of answers as to what it could be. "What is it? Heavy. Smells frightful," the local said. "It seems to have a leathery outer coat."

Images of the dark, grey mass found on a beach. The left image shows a person holding it while the right image shows it cut in half.
'Frightful' discovery on Aussie beach could be worth a fortune. Source: Facebook

Amateur environmentalists guess the mass could be ambergris

Some believe the find could be a rotting sea sponge, though surprisingly many thought the dark mass looked as though it could be ambergris — which is solidified whale vomit and is worth over $59,000 per kilogram based on previous sales.

Ambergris is produced by sperm whales when bile ducts in the gastrointestinal tract make secretions to ease the passage of large or sharp objects. The whale then vomits the mucilage which solidifies and floats on the surface of the ocean.

While it has a foul smell at first, after the mucilage dries out, it develops a sweet and long-lasting fragrance, which is why it is a sought-after ingredient in the perfume industry.

Due to ambergris being a whale product, the Department of Climate Change, Energy, the Environment and Water states the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 "regulates its possession and movement in the Commonwealth Marine Area". If found, it "should be reported" to the relevant state or territory environment department, with varying laws surrounding ambergris around the country. It is largely illegal to sell here, however some states allow it if a licence to do so is possessed.

Left image is of the dark mass cut in half, up close. The right image shows what an orange tunicate colony looks like when it is on a beach and not rotted.
Dr Vincent Raoult says the odd find (left) is likely a rotting tunicate colony. The right image shows what an orange tunicate colony looks like when it is not rotting. Source: Facebook

Expert dashes hopes, says it is 'hard' to know for sure

Ecologist and fisheries biologist Dr Vincent Raoult told Yahoo News Australia that while it's "hard to say" without looking at it in more detail, it is "unlikely to be ambergris" or a sea sponge.

"It's unlikely to be ambergris given it has some clear structure with a visible layer on the outside, and some tissue organisation on the inside," he said. "A sponge would not feel leathery, they would feel rough to the touch — they're also not often so round."

Although Dr Raoult cannot say for certain, he says it could be a "rotting orange tunicate colony". Tunicate is also known as a sea squirt and is common along Tassie's coast.

Love Australia's weird and wonderful environment? Get our new newsletter showcasing the week’s best stories.