Some 29,000 plastic yellow ducks, blue turtles and green frogs splashed into the mid-Pacific on January 10, 1992 whilst on transit from China to Seattle. During August-September, 1992, after 2,200 miles adrift, hundreds beached near Sitka, Alaska. Since then they have travelled 17,000 miles, floating over the site where the Titanic sank, landing in Hawaii and even spending years frozen in an Arctic ice pack. A breakaway flotilla of ducks is expected to make landfall in Britain this summer. Bleached by sun and seawater, the ducks and beavers had faded to white, but the turtles and frogs had kept their original colours.
While the ducks are undoubtedly a loss to the bath-time fun of thousands of children, their adventures at sea have proved an innvaluable aid to science. The toys have helped researchers to chart the great ocean currents because when they are spotted bobbing on the waves they are much more likely to be reported to the authorities than the floats which scientists normally use. And because the toys are made of durable plastic and are sealed watertight, they have been able to survive years adrift at the mercy of the elements. In the intervening time an oceanographer, Curtis Ebbesmeyer, has devoted his retirement to tracking the little yellow ducks and their friends over 17,000 miles, and it is he who has predicted that this summer they will land in the West of England. Mr Ebbesmeyer said: 'We're getting reports of ducks being washed up on America's eastern seaboard. "It is now inevitable that they will get caught up in the Atlantic currents and will turn up on English beaches. "Cornwall and the South-West will probably get the first wave of them."
Curtis Ebbesmeyer And His Plastic Treasures
THE JOURNEY SO FAR: 10 JANUARY 1992: Somewhere in the middle of the Pacific Ocean nearly 29,000 First Years bath toys, including bright yellow rubber ducks, are spilled from a cargo ship in the Pacific Ocean.
16 NOVEMBER 1992: Caught in the Subpolar Gyre (counter-clockwise ocean current in the Bering Sea, between Alaska and Siberia), the ducks take 10 months to begin landing on the shores of Alaska.
EARLY 1995: The ducks take three years to circle around. East from the drop site to Alaska, then west and south to Japan before turning back north and east passing the original drop site and again landing in North America. Some ducks are even found In Hawaii. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) worked out that the ducks travel approximately 50 per pent faster than the water in the current.
1995 - 2000: Some intrepid ducks escape the Subpolar Gyre and head North, through the Bering Straight and into the frozen waters of the Arctic. Frozen into the ice the ducks travel slowly across the pole, moving ever eastward. 2000: Ducks begin reaching the North Atlantic where they begin to thaw and move Southward. Soon ducks are sighted bobbing in the waves from Maine to Massachusetts.
2001: Ducks are tracked in the area where the Titanic sank.
JULY TO DECEMBER 2003: The First Years company offers a $100 savings bond reward for the recovery of wayward ducks from the 1992 spill. To be valid ducks must be sent to the company and must be found in New England, Canada or Iceland. Britain is told to prepare for an invasion of the wayward ducks as well.
2003: A lawyer called Sonali Naik was on holiday in the Hebrides in north-west Scotland when she found a faded green frog on the beach marked with the magic words 'The First Years'. Unaware of the significance of her find she left it on the beach. It was only when she was chatting to other guests at her hotel that she realised what she had seen.
July 2007 According to an article in England?EUR(TM)s ?EURoeDaily Mail?EUR?, the first ?EURoeFriendly Floatee?EUR? rubber duck has been found in the UK. As predicted by oceanographers, some of the 29,000 rubber ducks (and frogs, beavers and turtles) accidentally lost at sea in 1992 are now beginning to make landfall in Britain. The wayward rubber duck was found by Penny Harris, 60, as she walked her dog on a Devon beach. Covered in brown seaweed and barnacle-encrusted, the faded and partially decomposed toy has been sent to manufacturer The First Years in order to claim the finders reward offered by the company. Anyone who finds one of these three-inch rubber toys can earn a GBP 50 reward by returning it to The First Years Inc., the company that originally commissioned the toys from a Chinese manufacturer (I could not find confirmation of this on the First Years website).