An oceanographer who tracks flotsam says West Coast beachcombers may find floating athletic shoes with human remains as more debris from last year’s Japanese tsunami washes ashore.
“We’re expecting 100 sneakers with bones in them,” Curt Ebbesmeyer told the audience Monday at a tsunami symposium.
Anyone who discovers such remains should call 911 and wait for police. DNA may identify people missing since the March 2011 tsunami hit Japan.
“That may be the only remains that a Japanese family is ever going to have of their people that were lost,” Ebbesmeyer said. “We’re dealing with things that are of extreme sensitivity. Emotional content is just enormous. So be respectful.”
Shoes containing human remains have been a long-standing mystery in the region.
The remains of a human foot still encased in a shoe was found washed ashore near Tacoma, Washington, in early December 2010, raising to 10 the tally of feet found by fishermen and hikers on Pacific Northwest beaches since 2007.
On Dec. 5, a man walking along the shore spotted the foot and called police. The foot has not been identified, but police believe it belonged to a juvenile or small adult.
“Our best guess someone in their mid-to-late teens,” Tacoma Police spokesman Mark Fulghum told the Vancouver Sun.
The shoe, a boys’ size 6 “Ozark Trail” hiking boot, was sold in Wal-Mart stores in 2004 and 2005.
The boot-encased foot could have floated in from the Puyallup River or Puget Sound. Police have not drawn a connection between this foot and any missing-person case in the area.
The discovery of this foot adds yet another layer to the unsolved mystery of several human feet that have washed ashore in recent years in British Columbia and Western Washington.
All of the previous nine were in running shoes.
The first foot was discovered on August 20, 2007, on Jedediah Island, by a girl visiting from Washington. The girl found the foot when she picked up a shoe and opened the sock. The foot was that of a man, and was found wearing a size 12 Adidas shoe and a sock. It is thought to have become disarticulated due to submerged decay. This kind of shoe was produced in 2003 and distributed mainly in India.
The second foot was discovered by a couple on August 26 on Gabriola Island. It was also that of a man, and also became disarticulated due to decay. It was waterlogged and appeared to have been taken ashore by an animal. It probably floated ashore from the south. This shoe was produced in 2004 and sold worldwide, and the type has since been discontinued.
The third foot was discovered on February 8, 2008, on Valdes Island. It was also a man’s right foot and was wearing a sneaker and a sock. This shoe was sold in Canada or the United States between February 1, 2003, and June 30, 2003.
The fourth foot was discovered on May 22 on Kirkland Island, an island in the Fraser Delta between Richmond and Delta, British Columbia. It was also wearing a sock and sneaker. It is thought to have washed down the Fraser River, having nothing to do with the ones found in the Gulf Islands. This right foot was of a woman. The shoe was a New Balance sneaker manufactured in 1999.
The fifth foot was found on June 16, floating in water near Westham Island, part of Delta. It was found floating in the water by two hikers. It has been confirmed that the left foot found on June 16 on Westham Island and the right foot found February 8 on Valdes Island belonged to the same man.
The sixth foot was discovered on August 1, 2008, by a camper on a beach near Pysht, Washington. It was covered in seaweed. The site of the discovery was less than 16 kilometers from the international border in the Strait of Juan de Fuca. Testing confirmed that the right foot was human. Police say the large black-top, size 11 athletic shoe for a right foot contains bones and flesh. This was the first foot of the series to be found outside of British Columbia. The RCMP and Clallam County Sheriff’s Department agreed on August 5 that the foot could have been carried south from Canadian waters.
A seventh foot was discovered on November 11, 2008, in Richmond. The foot was in a shoe that was found floating in the Fraser River. The shoe was described as a small New Balance running shoe, possibly a woman’s shoe. A forensic DNA profiling analysis indicated that it was a genetic match to the foot discovered on May 22 on Kirkland Island.
In July 2008 it was announced that one foot had been identified by Vancouver police as belonging to a man who was depressed and probably committed suicide. His identity was withheld on request of his family.
On October 28, 2009, an eighth foot was found inside a running shoe on a beach in Richmond.
A ninth foot was discovered on August 27, 2010, on Whidbey Island in the American state of Washington. This foot was determined to be in the water for two months and belonged to either a juvenile or a female, based on the size. This foot was found without a shoe or sock.