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What the DUCK?
Thousands of rubber ducks to land on British shores after 15 year journey
By BEN CLERKIN - More by this author » Last updated at 18:32pm on 27th June 2007 Comments
They were destined to bob up and down in nothing bigger than a child's bath water but have floated halfway around the world.
And now an armada of thousands of plastic yellow ducks, blue turtles, green frogs and red beavers, which broke free from a cargo ship 15 years ago and have travelled 17,000 miles, are heading straight for British beaches.
On their epic voyage, the toys have floated over the site where the Titanic sank, landed in Hawaii and even spent years frozen in an Arctic ice pack.
So precious to science are the Friendly Floatees that the US firm that made them is offering a £50 bounty for finding one, while collectors of the bizarre can pay up to £500.
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Curtis Ebbesmeyer has been tracking the floating plastic ducks around the world's oceans
Since boxes of the bathtime toys were washed overboard in the eastern Pacific Ocean and broke open during a stormy night, they have proved invaluable to science.
The 29,000 toys have helped to chart the great ocean currents because they have a much higher report rate than scientists' floats, of which only two per cent are ever returned.
They are made of durable plastic and are sealed watertight, which is why they have survived years on the ocean waves at the mercy of the elements.
The oceanographer who has devoted his retirement to tracking the little yellow duck and his friends over 17,000 miles said this summer they will land in the West of England.
"We're getting reports of ducks being washed up on America's eastern seaboard," said Curtis Ebbesmeyer.
"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."
Mr Ebbesmeyer said the toys are easily recognisable as they have largely faded to white and have "The First Years" stamped upon them.
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 cardboard 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.
Oceanographer Curtis Ebbesmeyer saw immediately how valuable these little toys would be to scientific research of the great ocean currents, the engine of the planet's entire climate.
Mr Ebbesmeyer correctly predicted what many thought was impossible - that thousands of the little floaters 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 Northwest 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 US and Canada.
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.
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