“Messages in bottles have often been sources of heartwarming stories. Part of their allure is that they can be found anywhere—unlike ancient ruins, bottles can be replenished. Ruins of long-forgotten cities are found and excavated and that’s it. On the other hand, anyone could find a bottle or even send one. For example, a retired Texan professor tossed a bottle containing a note and his business card overboard during a cruise. Fourteen years later and the bottle was found on an Australian beach, 6,000 miles from its origin.”
This comes from an article (that you can read here) about an interesting experiment: a gentleman called George Parker Bidder III, a marine biologist, in between 1904 and 1906 dropped over one thousand bottles in the North Sea.
Each bottle contained a message – in English, German and Dutch – and a postcard. The idea was to have the postcard mailed back to Bidder, including the date and location in which the bottle had been found.
So far, the return rate of the bottles has been around 55% – meaning there’s still 450 bottles out there to be found.
The last one was found in 2015.
The whole thing, of course, is quite interesting as an early example of an experiment to chart ocean circulation by using what is, basically, flotsam. The story of the container full of rubber ducks comes to mind – the so-called Friendly Floatees.
They call it citizen science, because it involves the direct action of those citizens that, having found the bottle (or rubber duck) get back to the researchers reporting their find.
It’s cheap, it’s simple, it’s good – one of the best strategies not only to do massive research on the cheap, but also of showing the people that science is not some kind of esoteric mumbo-jumbo, a weird and complicated concern for a small band of weird chaps locked in labs. It’s great.
But also, I particularly like that closing remark – which I have quoted as an opening remark.
Messages in bottles are cool and mysterious. They are a small piece of romanticism in everyday life, easier to find and to explore than, say, the ruins of Tiahuanaco.
And I have half a mind of using one in a forthcoming Corsair story.
Messages in bottles are the stuff of adventure stories, after all.
And of quirky oceanographic studies.