Archive for 02/12/2012

Bryan Nelson –

If you were asked to picture a treasure-hunting beachcomber, you’d probably imagine an old man wielding a metal detector and oversized earphones, shoveling for pennies left in the sand by careless tourists.

You probably wouldn’t think such an activity would make a lucrative retirement plan.

But leftover change and lost jewelry aren’t the only kinds of treasure that occasionally get buried on the beach. A small but elite group of professional beachcombing bandits know to look for something much more valuable: a solid, waxy, little-known “gemstone” called ambergris.

“It’s beyond comprehension how beautiful it is,” Mandy Aftel, a perfumer in Berkeley, Calif., and an ambergris enthusiast, told Bloomberg BusinessWeek.

“It’s transformative. There’s a shimmering quality to it.

It reflects light with its smell. It’s like an olfactory gemstone.” It’s also poop. Sperm whale poop, to be exact. And finding just a pound of it could potentially net you as much as $10,000.

Sperm whales generate it in their intestines as a way to protect their bowels from indigestible sharp objects that occasionally get swallowed, such as giant squid beaks.

It gets passed as excrement along with the rest of the animal’s feces, or occasionally gets vomited back up if it causes a blockage — kind of like a sperm whale hairball.

Ambergris gets most of its value from the perfume-trading industry due to its unique, earthy scent.

For instance, in 2005, a 200-year-old fragrance originally made for Marie Antoinette that featured ambergris as a main ingredient was reproduced in limited quantities for $11,000 a bottle.

It has also been used in overpriced delicacies, such as the $4,700 mince pie recently created for charity by food designer Andrew Stellitano.

Full story…


Andrew Thompson –

A diver accused of using a gaff to catch two crayfish has been cleared of the charge and awarded $7700 in legal costs.

Timothy John Goodall, 56, of Lava Street, Warrnambool, told fisheries officers he had simply ‘‘tickled’’ the fish to catch them. But after finding the gaff (a fishing hook) under the boat they issued him with an infringement notice for $597.

Yesterday magistrate Ian von Einem found that there was not enough evidence to prove the fisheries officers’ claims.

Fisheries officer Troy Duthie said at an earlier court hearing that on January 13 last year he had been on patrol off the coast of Warrnambool in a rubber boat when at 11.10am he saw a white vessel which belonged to Mr Goodall anchored off Eagle Rock Reef.

He said he asked Mr Goodall how he had gone and then offered to measure his two crayfish, which were in a yellow catch bag. Mr Duthie said the two smallish crayfish were extremely sluggish and he asked Mr Goodall if he had hypnotised them.

He said he then noticed damage to the underside of the tail of one and damage to the chest of another.

The officer said he indicated to his fellow officer Lenny O’Brien that something was not right and Mr O’Brien entered the water.

Mr Duthie said he then started a search of Mr Goodall’s boat and scuba gear before Mr O’Brien surfaced with a metal gaff.

Full story…


MNN – 


Hardy fans of swimming in the frozen lakes of northern Poland decided to call off a mass outing due to the vicious cold snap gripping the country, organizers said Feb. 3.

“In the interests of our participants’ security, we’ve decided to call off this year’s Bath of the Brave,” Ireneusz Dzienisiewicz told Poland’s PAP news agency.

This year’s edition of the annual swim in a lake near the city of Elk — which draws around a hundred participants — was due to take place on Feb. 5.

But temperatures in northern Poland have plunged to minus 30 Celsius (minus 22 Fahrenheit), far below the minus 15 Celsius experienced by swimmers in 2010 during the coldest ever edition of the event.

On top of the risks to the swimmers, there were also practical reasons for canceling the event.

“The water freezes so fast that we wouldn’t be able to keep a large enough hole in the ice,” said Dzienisiewicz.

Since the cold snap struck Europe at the end of last week, 37 people have died of hypothermia in Poland, according to the police.

Most of the victims have been homeless.