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Some very famous plastic bath toys have, since 1992, been used to study ocean currents in the Pacific. Now they’ve arrived in the Atlantic, and we’re expecting some here in the UK! On January 10, 1992, 28,800 plastic toy turtles, ducks, beavers and frogs bound for the US company ‘The First Years’ fell into the mid Pacific. Unlike many bath toys, these ones had no holes in them so did not take on water. They have been floating around ever since, and beachcombers’ ongoing reports of their landings have provided information which has helped US oceanographer Curtis C. Ebbesmeyer and collaborators to construct a model of the north Pacific currents.
Image from the Daily Mail Ebbesmeyer, after christening the toys the ‘Friendly Floatees‘, managed to recruit beachcombers across the world to feed him data in a splendid example of public involvement in real science. He made several correct predictions about the toys’ route, and correctly predicted that thousands of the toys would get frozen into Arctic ice near Alaska, and then, moving at a rate of about a mile a day, would work their way around their very own North-West Passage to the Atlantic. In 2003, the first plastic toys from ‘The First Years’ cargo began to wash up on the eastern seaboard of the U.S. and Canada. The ocean currents are expected to sweep them southwards down the coast and then off north-east towards Europe. So now, after 15 years and up to 17,000 miles afloat, the toys are expected to start turning up on the south-west and western British coasts. They look a bit different to how they started off – some have bleached white, whilst others still retain their bright colours. You can see some images of what to look out for on Ebbesmeyer’s website, where you can also report the sightings. The $100 (