Friday, June 6, 2008

The Oceans are Really Just Big Bathtubs, Anyway

"It was a dark and stormy night ..."

No, I'm not entering the Bulwer-Lytton worst opening lines contest. It really was dark and stormy one January night in 1992, when 29,000 bathtub toys -- duckies, turtles, and frogs -- were washed overboard from a cargo ship in the middle of the Pacific. The toys were in one of the large shipping containers that washed overboard during the storm and which evidently opened before it sank, releasing the (buoyant) toys, albeit in their cardboard packaging. The cardboard packaging disintegrated in the water, and the plastic menagerie gained their freedom. In the years since, this flotilla of hardy little toys has ridden ocean currents and been washing up on shores around the globe -- in Australia, Alaska, and the western coasts of both North and South America. Incredibly, some have apparently even made it through the Arctic icepack to make landfall in New England, and even Old England. Their progress has been used to help chart the ocean currents.

George Bush Snr was still US President when the toys from The First Years Inc. were made in China, packed into a container and put on a ship for the US.

But after falling overboard, the sea water corroded the card-packaging and the toys floated free. They circled the northern Pacific once before being washed up on the Alaskan shore, then all down the West coast of Canada and the US.

Mr Ebbesmeyer saw immediately how valuable the little toys would be to scientific research of the great ocean currents, the engine of the planet's entire climate.

He correctly predicted what many thought was impossible - that thousands of them would end up washed into the Arctic ice near Alaska, and then move at a mile a day, frozen in the pack ice, around their very own North-West Passage to the Atlantic.

It proved true years later and in 2003, the first "Friendly Floatees" were found, frozen and then thawed out, on the eastern seaboard of the U.S. and Canada.

Here's a map of their remarkable journey:

(click to enlarge)

Quite the hardy little world travelers. Fascinating, no?

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