The substance, which may actually be pooped out more often than it's vomited, is created in the bile ducts of sperm whales. It may be produced to help whales pass large or irritating objects that they swallow accidentally. In any case, it's usually expelled with bowel movements, but scientists think that the larger chunks probably come out in vomit.
Once expelled, the substance can float around in the ocean for years. It's stinky when fresh -- as one would expect whale poo and/or vomit to be -- but as it ages, it can develop a more pleasant, musky odor.
But perfumers aren't inherently interested in it for smell. This so-called ambergris, named for the Latin phrase for "gray amber" (which admittedly sounds better than "cetacean chunks") is really good at making scents stick to human skin.
If the smell of the ambergris itself is pleasant, that's just a bonus. For now, it sounds like the ambergris up for sale is pretty stinky. But that musk could end up adding important notes to an expensive perfume one day.
Here's more from the BBC:
It's being sold by Adam Partridge Auctioneers & Valuers, who've set the starting bid at $10,000. On the auction house's Facebook page, representatives are valiantly attempting to educate the super grossed out public. But while you might wrinkle your nose, there's no doubt that perfumers will rush to throw down cash for the waxy prize. A six pound hunk of ambergris -- around three times the size of this one -- once sold for over $150,000.
If a high-end perfume house's scent expert takes a whiff of the whale puke in question and finds it particularly thrilling, there's no telling how high the bidding could go.