This is the Latitude News Mishmash, our weekly roundup of the three strangest, funniest, jaw-droppingest stories we found in the global press. No hard news. We deliberately skipped over stories about Senator Chuck Hagel and embassy bombings to find stories about whale vomit, sperm donors and a Barbie restaurant in Taiwan.
Man gets rich on whale vomit
Strolling along a beach in Morecambe on the west coast of Britain, Ken Wilman and his dog Madge came upon an unusual stone. Madge was a little more interested in the rock than Wilman. The pair left the stone on the beach.
But Wilman couldn’t forget the rock. “Something triggered in my mind,” he tells the BBC. Wilman went back to the beach after some investigative Googling, convinced he had found a piece of ambergris, a substance produced in the gut of sperm whales.
“When I picked it up and smelled it I put it back down again and I thought ‘urgh.’ It has a musky smell, but the more you smell it the nicer the smell becomes.”
Ambergris has more than sentimental value to Wilman. If tests confirm the stone is in fact ambergris, Wilman has already been offered 50,000 euros — almost 70,000 dollars — for the chunk of puke.
At the height of the sperm whaling industry, ambergris, or “floating gold,” was a valuable commodity around the world. It was used as a perfume additive, a lubricant for watches and other delicate mechanics, a medicine, a food flavoring and incense. While the waxy substance has been replaced with a synthetic “ambergris,” some perfumer makers still use the substance.
The common thinking is that whales produce ambergris to protect their guts from the hard beaks of squid and cuttlefish. The whales vomit up big pieces.
“Initially, it is a soft, foul-smelling matter that floats on the ocean,” reports the BBC, “but through exposure to the sun and the salt water over years it turns into a smooth lump of compact rock which feels waxy and has a sweet smell.”
“You never know,” said an enthusiastic Wilman. “There’s gold out there on that beach — floating gold.”
That’s not my baby
Speaking of sperm, a Canadian fertility doctor is in hot water after three women came forward saying their children are not biologically related to their chosen donor. In two cases, the chosen donors were the women’s husbands.
Amazingly, Dr. Bernard Norma Barwin was hit a few years ago by similar accusations from two other women. Those lawsuits were settled out of court.
Dr. Barwin isn’t some quack, but a successful doctor in Ottowa who is highly-respected by Canada’s pro-choice movement. Canadians for Choice awards an annual Dr. Normal Barwin Scholarship to a graduate student studying sexual health and reproductive rights, reports The Globe and Mail. But now the College of Physicians and Surgeons could revoke Dr. Barwin’s license.
The Globe and Mail scanned RateMDs.com for reviews of Dr. Baldwin. They were largely glowing:
“I’ve been a patient of Dr. Barwin’s now for about 10 yrs,” one patient wrote. “Will I change doctor now considering what he is being accused of? Absolutely not!!! He has helped me tremendously.”
Another patient called him a “baby God.”
The accusations against the doctor go back to the 1980s. While his staunch supporters are standing by him, you have to wonder if he’ll have trouble finding new patients.
A Barbie World
Our final story comes from the South China Morning Post. Barbie, that paragon of American feminine beauty, is heading to Taiwan to help young women feel inadequate about their appearance . . . I mean, to open a restaurant.
Replete with pink walls, pink ceilings, waitresses with pink tee-shirts and pink makeup, and pink chairs shaped like high heels, the Mattel-sponsored Barbie restaurant is run by Taiwan’s restaurant group Sinlaku.
The restaurant isn’t that much of a stretech for Mattel. Apparently, the U.S. company sells clothes, accessories and furniture in Taiwan. “We are very confident that the Barbie Cafe can promote our brand image,” said Iggy Yip, senior manager in Mattel’s consumer products division in Greater China.
In a line that sounds almost staged, the Post quotes one ecstatic Taiwanese mother: “My child and I both love Barbie and this lovely and cute place is like a dream come true for us. I will take her here to celebrate her next birthday.”
With any luck, Mattel will avoid the fate of a Barbie concept store that launched in China in 2009, just in time for the doll’s 50th anniversary. The Post reports the shop shut down after two years “amid reports the outlet failed to get off the ground.”