So let’s get back to our bubonic whale. Fortunately, the rare fin whale that washed up on the Oregon coast did not suffer from the black death, and probably did not suffer from fleas either, but something got it. The necropsy results aren’t in but the whale was reported to be caught in a rope, bitten by orcas, and underweight. I don’t know how they know if a whale is underweight. Perhaps they become tubular rather than zeppelin-shaped. Perhaps they wrinkle up. Whatever the case, it’s sad. Nobody ever says “You know, Shamu would be so pretty if she just lost seven or eight hundred pounds.”

The people in charge are urging ua to not touch the whale because it might have diseases we don’t want. Also, we should keep our dogs away from it. Good luck with that! I wouldn’t have thought too many people would be interested in getting all that close. If you leave your cracked crab out overnight you’ll have to torch your house. A dead whale, even a skinny one, is going to be 100,000 pounds of eyebrow-melting stench. Your dog, however, will be in heaven. Not only will the dead whale be the greatest thing your dog has ever encountered, there will be that thrilling challenge of how to roll in it. Your dog is going to go smear itself in whale disease and bring it right back to you.

The authorities intend to let the whale decompose on the beach, where it will provide nutrition to all manner of organisms with undiscriminating taste. They did take the precaution of “releasing the gas” inside the whale, a job which, in a just world, should result in bonus pay for somebody, but probably didn’t. The method was not mentioned. Some sort of puncturing must have occurred, and it seems to me it should happen at some distance. By bow and arrow, for instance. I believe that some prehistoric warrior could have won a place in tribal lore by sending an arrow into a dead whale and blowing it up. It had to be impressive.

I learned something in third grade that really stuck with me, unlike the multiplication tables: whale puke is used in perfume. It stuck with me because it seemed so unlikely, and sure enough, it isn’t quite true. Whales are not routinely given to nausea. A seasick whale is in a lot of trouble. Ambergris is a digestive product from sperm whales only, and not many of those. And usually it’s pooped out. Freshly pooped, it is said to smell like a kicky combination of bay bottom and shit. The person who first discovered the substance and thought “This has great perfume potential” should be celebrated for their imagination, or else removed from polite society.

It’s not usually discovered fresh. Instead, it floats around for years post-expulsion and eventually washes up on a shore somewhere as little waxy solid chunks. It’s illegal to collect them in the U.S. because they are considered to be part of an endangered whale, even if the whale was good and done with it.

The reason ambergris is produced in the first place, it is thought, is that it eases the passage of sharp prickly bits through the intestinal tract of the whale. Giant squid beaks, for instance. Those’ll back you up for sure. In a way, ambergris is like the pearl in the irritated oyster, although it has never been used in jewelry. There’s the stench thing, and also it can catch fire.

So whale ejecta joins musk as a major perfume component. Musk is secreted from the glands of various animals such as your deer or your musky rat-kangaroo. “Musk” derives from the Sanskrit for “testicle.” Basically, if you’re constructing a perfume, you should look to anything stinky an animal expels. Your dog will find it for you. In fact, dogs are routinely used to locate chunks of ambergris because they are unable to resist that marine fecal odor. They’re liable to locate lots of other stinky stuff too and some of them might be worth a shot in the lucrative fragrance industry. As an Eau de Toilet, perhaps.