Subject: ambergris and how do cetaceans sleep?

Kim Marshall (
Wed, 27 Oct 1999 15:53:49 -0400

Reply:  Hello - Sperm whales produce within their intestines, a greasy waxy
secretion found around squid beaks (their main source of food is squid and
squid have beaks like birds) that is known as ambergris. Found only in
sperm whales, ambergris has a pleasant earthy smell such as when you tear
up moss to expose the soil below, or like a good cigar... to be a whaler
and find ambergris in a sperm whale was as if finding gold because
ambergris was worth more than gold in the 1930's. It's primary usage was as
a fixative in perfumes.

Whales are believed to sleep or actually rest for very short time spans.
They seem to shut down half of their brain at a time, because if they shut
their entire brain down, they would stop breathing.  Humans don't need to
be conscious to breathe.  With right whales, we have seen that the whales
will seem to fall asleep and start sinking under the surface.  However,
they wake up in a few minutes and rise to the surface to breathe.  Thank
you! Kim

Question: 1) does ambergris form in the intestine of the  sperm whale or in
the spermacetti organ?  2) does ambergris have any modern  commercial use? 
3) how do cetaceans sleep?  I heard that one  hemisphere of their brain
will sleep while the other is alert.  if so, does  this mean that they shut
the eye controlled by the sleeping  hemisphere?

Kim Marshall-Tilas
Whale Conservation Institute/Ocean Alliance
191 Weston Road
Lincoln, MA  01773
(781) 259-0423
fax: 259-0288