28,000 Rubber Ducks Accidentally Embarked On an Epic Ocean Current Study In 1992

On January 10, 1992, a storm in the Pacific Ocean triggered one of the largest and most unusual studies of ocean currents worldwide.  A freighter traveling from China to America was caught up in the storm, which tipped the vessel into what I like to call the Uh-Oh Zone. Less than the optimal strategy, a few shipping containers were safely unloaded, one of which contained 28,800 bath toys.

The toys were wrapped in plastic on cardboard mounted and each had a yellow duck, a red beaver, a green frog, and a blue turtle made by First Company. The cheerful characters exploded from their shipping containers, probably because its doors opened by a collision with another lost container. Wet in saltwater and tangled by currents and waves are suspected to free the quartets from their packaging. The toys were designed without any holes to successfully sink to the surface.

Scientists have never been able to morally throw a few thousand plastic toys into the ocean, but accidentally releasing so many toys accidentally forgets an opportunity that seems less fortunate. Oceanographer Curtis Ebbesmeyer was hired to help the beachcombers map their progress. Drift bottles have been used to study ocean currents, but their deployment is usually covered in 1 thousand bottles, many of which are never seen again. A bumper crop of the current trackers of 26,600 oceans was, therefore, a boon for oceanography because it would probably return more data.

Friendly Floaters, they said, first began pounding the Alaskan coast in late 1992, about 3,200 kilometers (2,000 miles) from their source. A year later more than 400 people followed suit traveling to the east coast of the Gulf of Alaska. Each of the reported animals entered an Ocean Surface Currents Simulation (OSCAR), a computer model developed by Ebbesmeyer and his colleague James Ingraham by the model to map the paths of current sea indicators, such as moving rubber ducks combines.

OSCAR successfully predicted the direction of the friendly float, which arrived in Washington State a few years later. The seas eventually returned to Japan and back to Alaska, and some even traveled to Bering Street where they were frozen in Arctic ice. Ebbesmeyer estimated that it would take several years for the friendly float to cross the pole before the warm climate of the Greenland Sea could break the ice and free them.  As of 2007, their travels had a mix of whites, but with some sporting the “First Years” branding that identified them, very few people have started washing up on the south-west coast of the UK. It is possible that the oceans still have a friendly float of the ocean today, caught in any of the great garbage patches of the ocean or washed up on a coast where people are not or their significance is unknown.

The different trips to the bath toys taught us a lot about oceanography. Ebbesmeyer coined the term “Flotsametrics” for these plastic animals because they were the means of understanding the movement of floats (things thrown into the sea). The story inspired researchers to book a book on how the ocean works and helped clear up a clear picture of David Attenborough’s place on Blue Planet II.

Oceanography has leapfrogged since the Charismatic Square began its first journey. Since then they have been replaced by boilers equipped with GPS tracking devices that have allowed researchers to analyze and map the most probable path of plastic waste. This interactive map can now show you the most likely trash risk journey from your chosen location, signed by a rubber duck, signed.