“If the moon had a scent, it would be ambergris. It has a recognizable marine and iodine odor; a kind of salinity. It’s full of mystery.”
In December 2021, Maison Francis Kurkdjian joined forces with the not-for-profit organization Longitude 181 to promote the study and protection of sperm whales in the Mediterranean Sea.
Ambergris, also known as grey amber, is a solid substance that forms in the intestines of sperm whales through a reaction between their bile secretions and the non-digestible parts of preys, such as squid mantles and octopus beaks. As the ocean’s natural jetsam, ambergris floats and drifts ashore, its scent intensifying, evolving and maturing because of ocean salt, light (UV rays) and air. This odorous substance - solid, flammable and with a color variating from grey to black - is prized for the incomparable endurance of its scent. Ambergris was used as a fragrance-enhancer until the mid-20th century but its rarity, due to the intensive chase of the cetaceans, made its use too complex to use at industrial scale.
In June and September 2022, the first missions of the program, called WhaleWay (La Voix des cachalots in French) were conducted in the heart of the Pelagos Sanctuary, located in the Mediterranean Sea off the coast of France’s Port-Cros National Park. Supported by Maison Francis Kurkdjian, these studies will make possible to gradually enter into sperm whales’ world and gain a better understanding of their social interactions and movements. An improved knowledge of sperm whales will teach us how to be more respectful of the natural environment in which they live, and ultimately protect the whales themselves. Markers will also be placed in the Mediterranean Sea, in areas where the animals are most present, to prevent collisions between whales and boats.
Founded in 2002 by oceanographer Dr. François Sarano, a former scientific advisor and expedition leader for Jacques Cousteau and co-author of the film Océans, Longitude 181 strives to protect the planet’s extraordinary biological and cultural diversity by acting as “the Voice of the Ocean.” In 2015, it launched a program called La Voix des cachalots (WhaleWay, or the voice of sperm whales) dedicated to studying and protecting sperm whales, as well as sharing knowledge about the species. Hunted throughout the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries mainly for its oil, the sperm whale became a protected species in the 1980s, when it was classified as “vulnerable.” Following these protective measures, an initial study was launched off the coast of Mauritius in the Indian Ocean to observe the return of the sperm whale.
“A sperm whale is thirty tons of grace, lightness and elegance flying through the ocean sky.”
Dr. François Sarano, Oceanographer
© Marien Ziller
© François Sarano