Innovation Blog

Please sink my rubber duckies, so I can understand the oceans!

By Shlomo Maital






 My friend Michael Neugarten sent me this item, published in Britain’s The Independent, by journalist Guy Adams, today, Feb. 27:   

  A new book by Donovan Hohn, titled Moby Duck,  chronicles the journey of thousands of plastic duckies lost from a container ship some 20 years ago. This flotilla of yellow plastic ducks, made only for bathtub use,  has been hailed for revolutionizing mankind’s knowledge of ocean science”.  According to Hohn,

   They were in a crate that fell off the deck of a container ship during a journey

across the Pacific from Hong Kong in January 1992.  Since that moment, they have bobbed tens of thousands of miles.  Some washed up on the shores of Hawaii and Alaska; others have been stuck in Arctic ice.   A few crossed the site near Newfoundland where the Titanic sank, and at

least one is believed to have been found on a beach in Scotland. Now the creatures, nicknamed the “Friendly Floatees” by various broadcasters who have followed their progress over the years, have been immortalized in a book. It not only chronicles their extraordinary odyssey, and what it has taught us about currents, but also lays bare a largely ignored threat to the marine environment: the vast numbers of containers that fall off the world’s cargo ships.


    According to Adam’s account, Curtis Ebbesmeyer,  “a retired oceanographer and enthusiastic beachcomber who lives in Seattle, used records held by First Years Inc to trace the ship they had been carried on. By interviewing its captain, he was able to locate

the exact point at which their journey began. He was able to track their

rate of progress on the constantly circulating current, or “gyre”, which

runs between Japan, south-east Alaska, Kodiak and the Aleutian Islands. ‘We always knew that this gyre existed. But until the ducks came along, we didn’t know how long it took to complete a circuit,’ he says. ‘It was like knowing that a planet is in the solar system but not being able to say how long it takes to orbit. Well, now we know exactly how long it takes: about three years.’

     Woody Allen once said, “my wife is so immature – she used to sink my rubber duckies in the bathtub”.   Today, 20 years after a container of rubber duckies fell overboard, we now better understand how the world’s currents work.  I wonder why no innovative researcher thought about sinking rubber duckies on purpose, to study currents.  Actually they did. On Dec. 21, 2008, I wrote a blog about this:   “A while ago, NASA researchers dropped 90 rubber duckies onto a Greenland glacier, in an effort to trace where the glacier melt water went, as it disappeared under Greenland’s ice shelf.   The duckies disappeared without a trace.”

     Could they have joined the Moby Ducks?