Well, now a report and a bit of a clarification. Not our fault, though. Well, maybe it was. We told you on the BPP yesterday that a sixth disembodied human foot washed up on the beach in the Canadian province of British Columbia on Wednesday. It turns out that number six was actually some animal bones stuffed into a tennis shoe, and authorities now believe it was a hoax or a well-shod caribou who is equally effective on clay or the hard court.

Either way, at least five disembodied feet over a ten-month span makes headlines. All the feet have been recovered along the shorelines in the Strait of Georgia, southwest of Vancouver. Four of them are right feet. Number five is a left foot. The first two feet wore size 12 shoes. This leads us to Dr. Curtis Ebbesmeyer. He's a retired oceanographer and a specialist in ocean currents and the movements of flotsam and jetsam, and he's gotten a lot of phone calls about what might be causing these feet to wash up on the shore. He joins us from his home, early, in Seattle. Thanks a lot, Doctor, for joining us.

Dr. CURTIS EBBESMEYER (Founder, Beachcombers' and Oceanographers' International Association): It's a pleasure, Mike.

PESCA: So, everyone is coming to you, as they do whenever weird stuff washes up. That's a great niche to have, but do you have a lot of precious experience with body parts washing up?

Dr. EBBESMEYER: Oh, yes. Body parts wash up worldwide, legs, arms, heads, jawbones, whole skeletons.

PESCA: And from what you do, is it mostly studying the ocean currents, or the thing itself?

Dr. EBBESMEYER: I study the currents, but I'm most interested in what the currents carry.

PESCA: Right. So what's your guess on where these feet are coming from?

Dr. EBBESMEYER: Well, we've had two wash up at the mouth of the Fraser River, which runs through Vancouver, and we've had three wash up in the Northern Strait about 100 miles away. So there's kind of two centers of where they're washed up, if you will. So there are kind of two theories. Drifting objects usually wash up closest to where they were put in the water.

PESCA: Mm-hm.

Dr. EBBESMEYER: So you'd think that some might have been put in up at the northern end of the Strait of Georgia and perhaps some washed down the Fraser River.

PESCA: So does that mean that these were - hm. Do you think that they're from one central location that they're doing a washing from, or...?

Dr. EBBESMEYER: It's possible that they all washed down the Fraser River and then some got hung up at the mouth and some dispersed to the north. We really don't know. Here in Puget Sound, I've had a number of feet in shoes and we never solved the case.

PESCA: Oh, really? Is that - it's not unique, you just said you have a lot of body parts, but...


PESCA: Is this just getting covered now? Is there actually a longstanding problem of feet and shoes washing up in western Canada?

Dr. EBBESMEYER: No, I wouldn't say longstanding. It's just worldwide. I get reports, and sometimes I get a skull, sometimes I get a jawbone. We found a jawbone in a fox den. Sometimes I get just the fingertips from a survival suit. Sometimes I get a head just from a murder. So things like that.

PESCA: Most of these feet don't appear to have been cut off, right? Can the ocean naturally separate an ankle joint from the rest of the leg?

Dr. EBBESMEYER: Yeah. What happens when a body floats, it's a process called disarticulation, and the body, you know, will kind of wiggle at the joints, and the joints will separate. And so, you wind up with a body separating into maybe 10 or 15 parts. And what's surprising here, we're dealing with at least five different people. So the question is, why aren't we finding the other body parts?

PESCA: Right, why aren't you finding the left feet to go with the right feet? And it's also odd - I thought it might be odd that they're wearing running shoes, but - or is it the running shoes that's making them float?

Dr. EBBESMEYER: Yeah, that's a very good point. Running shoes float. I had a spill of about 80,000 Nike shoes from containers and they all floated; and most of them floated with their soles up. So the shoes have buoyancy and they also protect the feet from animals eating the flesh.

PESCA: How far can a shoe or a foot in a shoe go?

Dr. EBBESMEYER: I had a shoe one time drift three years, and it was still wearable. So these running shoes are quite durable.

PESCA: What distance did it float in that time?

Dr. EBBESMEYER: It went from, let's see, the middle of the Pacific here and out to Hawaii, so I'd say about six, 7,000 miles.

PESCA: Some people have theorized that the feet might be the victims of the 2004 Asian tsunami. That was the Christmas tsunami, so was three and a half years ago. Would the bones have decomposed in that time?

Dr. EBBESMEYER: Well, I think that's way too far away. That's like 12,000 miles away, and all these shoes have all been found around the Strait of Georgia, which is a pretty enclosed body of water. So, it's highly likely that the feet were put in the water around the Strait of Georgia.

PESCA: Now, you're an expert on the waters of the Pacific, because that's where you're from. Is there another Atlantic Ocean guy? Or do you do all the waters everywhere?

Dr. EBBESMEYER: I operate an international network of beachcombers that report on everything that washes up worldwide.

PESCA: Is - with the body parts, the past experience with body parts, do they usually come from, well, not people who knew they were missing, but were those people wind - did it wind up that they were report - to have been reported as missing before you found them?

Dr. EBBESMEYER: Yes, we had a fisherman wash overboard, and we found his jawbone four months later. We had a skeleton in a survival suit that washed from the Arctic Ocean down to Hawaii, but he - we never figured out who he was. We had a skull from an alleged murder and washed up 70 miles away.

PESCA: So, this would indicate that there are - not you, but people working with you, who are trying to figure out, you know, where could missing people come from, did any - were a bunch of people swept overboard on a boat, something like that.

Dr. EBBESMEYER: Yeah, there's about, I'd, something like 2,000 people missing in British Columbia alone. So, it's very likely that these come from just missing people, but so far, there's been no matches on DNA that's been reported. So, the authorities are working really hard, but they have to treat it as a serious crime.

PESCA: This is really a stark contrast from the last time you were on NPR. You talked about rubber ducks washing up all over the place in 2003.


PESCA: What was all that about?

Dr. EBBESMEYER: Well, we had a spill in 1992 of 29,000 turtles, ducks, beavers and frogs, little tub toys.


Dr. EBBESMEYER: And they're washing all over. They've been floating around 16 years. And they're still out there. They've been washing around. They still wash up in Alaska.

PESCA: So, right now, what's sitting on your mantel in your home in Seattle? What's the coolest thing you've found on the beach?

Dr. EBBESMEYER: Oh, I've got a mannequin head, that's pretty cool, washed up.

(Soundbite of laughter)

PESCA: Do you have that on display?

Dr. EBBESMEYER: Oh, yeah, it's out on the front porch.

PESCA: Oh, that's pretty cool.

(Soundbite of laughter)

PESCA: And I guess big shark jaws, too, right?

Dr. EBBESMEYER: Well, no, I don't have one of those, actually.

PESCA: Ah. I guess...

Dr. EBBESMEYER: Glass balls are pretty cool, messages in bottles from, I don't know, 30, 40 years ago. A message in a bottle can float for, like, 30 years, anyway.

PESCA: Yeah. And they made a really bad romantic comedy about that once.


(Soundbite of laughter)

PESCA: Yeah, yeah. Unfortunate.

Dr. EBBESMEYER: It was a bestseller, though.

PESCA: Oh, yeah? Well, I hope you got a consulting fee on that. And good luck with tracking down what's causing these feet to wash up in British Columbia.

Dr. EBBESMEYER: Well, thanks, Mike.


Dr. EBBESMEYER: Thank you very much.

PESCA: You got it. Dr. Curtis Ebbesmeyer is a retired oceanographer and a specialist on ocean currents and the movement of flotsam, and indeed, jetsam.

(Soundbite of laughter)

(Soundbite of music)

PESCA: Coming up, j'accuse! Coldplay has been accused of plagiarism. We'll see if the allegations have merit. Judge and jury, right next, on the Bryant Park Project, from NPR News.

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