As described by anyone who experiences an unexplainable stroke of luck, “it was just another day” for a group of poor Yemeni fishermen heading out into the Gulf of Aden to earn their living.
But lady luck delivered a lump of precious ambergris, a unique substance found in the bellies of sperm whales, into their hands when they happened upon a floating whale carcass.
For obvious reasons, the last Good News Network story in which Yemen or the Yemenis were the spotlight was published in 2011. But with this once-in-a-lifetime find for 35 Yemeni fisherman, the poorest country in the Middle East just got a bit richer.
26 kilometers off the coast of the southern port city of Aden, a dead sperm whale was hooked up to some fishing vessels and dragged ashore. An inspection of the whale’s interior revealed a 280-pound lump of “floating gold,” or ambergris, a substance used to stabilize fragrances in perfumes.
Produced in the intestines of sperm whales, ambergris protects the lining of the intestines from the sharp beaks of the squid which make up the majority of their diet.
Over time it’s also been used as a flavoring agent in liquor and coffee, and as an incense in ancient China, Egypt, and elsewhere.
Al-Araby reports that an Emirati businessman bought the ambergris for $1.5 million, an unimaginable sum of money for most fishermen in the world, let alone those in one of the poorest countries in the world.
Furthermore, while one might imagine this story ending in tragedy or corruption considering the desperate state the country is in, the money was shared among the 35 men—who decided to give a portion towards helping their community.
“From one moment to another, our lives changed,” one of the fishermen, named Abdulhakeem, told AFP. “There are those who bought boats, others built or fixed their houses. I built my house; I built my future.”
“We are simple people: fishermen looking for our catch every day,” said Salim Sharf, another of the 35 lucky men, to AFP. “If you found your catch for the day you thank God. Suddenly, the Most Merciful gave us this.“
Citing an old phrase, Abdulhakeem notes that for most men the sea and its bounty are better neighbors even than a king. For these lucky 35, that’s certainly true.