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Friday, July 18, 2003
Herbert's Brethren Afloat at Sea!

Ducks ahoy!

by Katty Heath

Thousands of rubber ducks are expected to wash up on the American coast - after more than 10 years at sea. The ducks - along with other bathtub toys like beavers, turtles and frogs - fell overboard from a container ship en route from China to Seattle during a storm in 1992.

Oceanographers say the trip has taught them valuable lessons about the ocean's currents.

A total of 29,000 of the toys were spilled into the sea when their steel container breached. Curtis Ebbesmeyer, a retired oceanographer based in Seattle decided to follow them as part of his efforts to track global currents and test computerized tidal models for accuracy. He estimates that they have travelled 20,000 miles.

During their voyage, some of the ducks broke away - and headed for Europe - others have surfaced in Hawaii.

From a point in the Pacific Ocean near where the 45th parallel meets the International Date Line, they floated along the Alaska coast, reaching the Bering Strait by 1995 and Iceland five years later. It is thought they were trapped by slow moving ice for several years - it took them until 2000 to reach the Atlantic Ocean.

By 2001 they had floated to the area in the north Atlantic where the Titanic sank.

"Some kept going, some turned and headed to Europe," says Ebbesmeyer "By now, hundreds should be dispersed along the New England coast."

Now bleached white from their original yellow, their survival a testimony to the durability of plastic.

"They will be a rare find, but they should be there any day now--maybe a child has already collected some but has no idea where they came from," said Ebbesmeyer.

"When trash goes into the ocean, it doesn't disappear," he added, "It just goes somewhere else."

As many as 10,000 containers fall off ships every year, causing hazards for shipping and for marine life.

Fred Felleman, of the environmental group Ocean Advocates, said container ships carry 95 percent of the world's goods and are stacked higher and wider than ever before, raising the odds of spillage.

Ebbesmeyer recently tracked the movement of 34,000 ice hockey gloves lost at sea.

He regularly gets reports on Nike trainers washing up on coasts. He has even worked out the path taken across the world's waters by a dead body in a survival suit.


Found at: http://www.touchnottingham.com/newspub/story.cfm?ID=1049