12 Weird Things That Have Washed Ashore

Davidd, Flickr // CC BY 2.0
Davidd, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

From human appendages to rubber duckies and a giant eyeball, some very weird things have washed up on the world's shores.

1. A BAG OF SEVERED HUMAN HANDS

A fisherman near Khabarovsk, Siberia, was startled to discover a human hand poking out of the snow on an island in the Amur River on March 8, 2018. He soon discovered a total of 54 severed hands, which had somehow washed ashore in a bag at the popular fishing location. The authorities were quickly summoned, amid rumors of organized crime involvement and speculation about the "work of a vicious maniac," but the Investigative Committee of The Russian Federation soon told the populace not to worry. The hands likely came from a local forensics lab, the committee said, where they were kept as a form of identification and then improperly disposed. The committee promised a full "legal assessment."

2. LOTS OF LEGO BRICKS

Ever since 62 shipping containers full of 4.8 million LEGO pieces fell off a boat on February 13, 1997, pieces have been washing up on UK shores to surprise beachcombers. And they're not regular square bricks, either: Delightfully, many of the LEGOs in the container were nautically themed. It’s estimated that in the years since the spill, the pieces could have drifted over 62,000 miles—meaning they could be virtually anywhere in the ocean—but thus far finds have only been confirmed in parts of southern England, Wales, and one site in Ireland.

3. E.T.

When Margaret Wells was robbed in 2011 she lost one particularly irreplaceable item from her Hampshire, England home: a life-size E.T. replica made by her daughter as part of a stage makeup course. Several months later, a beach-goer in nearby Portsmouth saw E.T. floating in the surf—but didn’t realize what it was at first. The pedestrian called the police, fearing it was a body on the beach, but the police quickly realized it was a one-of-a-kind alien model.

“There's only one in the whole of England and that is mine,” Wells said. “I always knew E.T. would come home.”

4. LOVE LETTERS FROM WWII

Just a day after Hurricane Sandy ravaged the East Coast in 2012, Kathleen Mullen made an incredible discovery near the Jersey shore. A stack of 57 letters, bound with a pink ribbon, had washed ashore in the storm. Mullen took the letters home, dried them by the fire—the power was still out from the storm—and realized she had stumbled upon love letters written between Dorothy Fallon and Lynn Farnham between 1942 and 1947 while Lynn was in the military.

It’s unclear where the letters came from, but Mullen was determined to get them back to the couple. Through research online she was able to locate a niece, Shelly Farnham-Hilber, who lives in Virginia. Dorothy and Lynn had gotten married after the war and had two children. Lynn and the couple’s son are deceased and their daughter has lost touch with the family. But 91-year-old Dorothy was living in a nursing home in New Jersey.

"It's magical. You go, 'This can't be real,'" Farnham-Hilber told a local news station. "It's like a genealogical gold mine. It's just that moment that you think is lost forever and here is something. It's a gift."

5. A HARLEY-DAVIDSON

Ikuo Yokoyama lost his home and three family members in the devastating 2011 tsunami. So he probably hadn’t given much thought to the fact that he also lost his motorcycle—and everything else that was in the van that he was using as a storage shed—until it washed up on shore over a year later in British Columbia, more than 3000 miles away. Peter Mark stumbled upon the storage unit while exploring a remote beach on Graham Island. The bike was a little rusty, but after the story went public, a Harley-Davidson representative in Japan tracked down Yokoyama and offered to pay for it to be transported back to him and repaired to its former glory.

6. THE "ST. AUGUSTINE MONSTER"

Tissue samples of the St. Augustine Monster at the National Museum of Natural History
Tissue samples of the St. Augustine Monster at the National Museum of Natural History
National Museum of Natural History, Wikimedia // Public Domain

The St. Augustine Monster is one of the earliest examples of a globster—a delightful term referring to an unidentified animal mass that washes up on a beach and results in cryptozoologists speculating about sea monsters. This particular—and particularly large—carcass was discovered by a couple of young boys playing on Anastasia Island, Florida, in November 1896. The boys assumed it was a whale, but Dr. De Witt Webb, the founder of the St. Augustine Historical Society and Institute of Science, concluded that it was the remains of a giant octopus and sent photos and a specimen to the Smithsonian labeled as such. Over the next century-plus, various tests claimed to “prove” at one time or another that it was a whale or an octopus, depending on which test was run. Finally, in 2004, it was conclusively proven that the St. Augustine Monster was a whale all along—just like the two boys who discovered it had thought.

7. A GIANT EYEBALL

In 2012, a Florida man found an eyeball the size of a softball on Pompano Beach. In previous eras, this likely would have kicked off decades of sea monster speculation, but the eye was quickly handed over to wildlife officials, who easily identified it as belonging to a very, very large swordfish.

8. A LOT OF RUBBER DUCKS

A rubber ducky on the beach
poolie, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

Just like the LEGO pieces, these duckies were the victims of a shipping container accident that occurred in 1992. The buoyant bath toys have been drifting all over the world in the decades since, serving as unintentional educators about the ocean’s currents. Members of the "Friendly Floatees," a name given to these rubber ducks, have been discovered on the shores of Hawaii, Alaska, South America, Australia, the Pacific Northwest, and even the Arctic ice. Some 200 duckies are still circulating in the currents of the North Pacific Gyre, providing scientists with new information about what is now known as the Great Pacific Ocean Garbage Patch. They’ve even become the subject of a book called Moby-Duck.

9. NAVY TRAINING MINE

Beach-goers on Miami Beach got quite a scare in 2011 when they noticed a 5-foot-long mine had washed ashore. The police were called and the beach was evacuated, but the Navy quickly assured the public that it was simply an inert training mine that had somehow broken free of an offshore training site.

10. A HUNDRED LIVE WWII BOMBS

The nearly 100 World War II-era bombs that washed ashore in Hampshire in 2011, however, were very real and very dangerous. Some people speculated that the so-called Supermoon the previous week was responsible, possibly because it caused very low tides, while others speculated that fishing nets had pulled them up. A British Navy team blocked off the beach and detonated the bombs while they were submerged in high-tide.

11. WHALE EXCRETA WORTH UP TO $180,000

Ken Wilman’s dog Madge noticed the smelly yellow lump of something on the beach in Lancashire first. Initially, Wilman had no interest in it.

“It smelled horrible. I left it, came back home and looked it up on the internet,” Wilman told The Mirror. “When I saw how much it could be worth, I went back and grabbed it.

He had stumbled upon a 6-pound pile of ambergris, or “whale vomit,” worth up to $180,000. The waxy substance is produced in the intestines of sperm whales to protect their digestive tracts from sharp squid beaks. Despite its nickname, it’s likely excreted, rather than vomited, into the ocean, where it floats for untold years before occasionally washing up on shore. So why is the whale excrement worth so much? High-end European perfumeries use it as a “fixer” that allows the scents to stay on the skin for much longer. (It's also a historical ingredient in recipes, especially desserts.)

12. VAST QUANTITIES OF DRUGS

Bags of drugs washing up on beaches is fairly common. In fact, according to Galveston, Texas, police, packages similar to the 66-pound bundle of cocaine worth $3.5 million found on a local beach in May 2015 wash ashore once every couple of months. But what made this one unusual was that it was the sixth bundle of drugs discovered on the beach that week (four packages contained marijuana, and two contained cocaine). Police were unsure of the reason for the massive increase, but speculated that heavy storms had restricted access to the Houston Ship Channel, which led to increased scrutiny by the Coast Guard—and traffickers throwing illegal drugs overboard.

A version of this story originally ran in 2016.

Can You Pick Out the Weird Law That's Totally Real?

In 1959, the U.S. Postal Service Attempted to Deliver Mail via Missile

Smithsonian National Postal Museum
Smithsonian National Postal Museum

In the late 1950s, the future was up in the air. The space race was just getting started, and the U.S. military was working on missiles that could reach around the world—and even to the Moon. The U.S. government didn’t just see new flight capabilities as military priorities, though. It also thought they could be used to carry mail, as we recently learned from Today I Found Out. Yes, the Postal Service once tried sending letters by missile mail.

In June 1959, the U.S. Navy sent 3000 letters on a guided missile toward a naval auxiliary air station in Mayport, Florida. Launched from the USS Barbero, a submarine that was stationed 100 miles off the U.S. coast in international waters, the 36-foot Regulus I missile made it to Mayport in 22 minutes. Held in two metal containers in what was supposed to be the missile’s warhead chamber, the letters on board were copies of a letter from Postmaster General Arthur Summerfield to then-President Eisenhower, Vice President Richard Nixon, individual representatives of Congress, members of the Supreme Court, the crew of the Barbero, and more. The letters carried regular mail stamps—“not even air mail,” as the AP story that day noted.

The Postal Service heralded it as the first successful delivery of mail by missile. (There had been previous attempts, like a thwarted 1936 delivery on a rocket-powered plane across a lake between New York and New Jersey [PDF]. Despite several attempts, that one never fully made a successful delivery.) But “delivery” was a bit of an overstatement: Most of those letters had to be sent by regular mail service at a post office in nearby Jacksonville, since the 3000 recipients weren’t sitting around at a naval base in Florida waiting for their letter.

An envelope that reads 'First Official Missile Mail'
Smithsonian National Postal Museum

“Now that we know we can do it,” Summerfield told the press, “we plan a series of discussions to determine the practical extent to which the method can be used and under what conditions.” It never did become practical, as we now know. Summerfield’s successor, J. Edward Day, killed the program, pointing out that the letters sent from the USS Barbero ended up taking some eight days to reach their intended recipients. Not exactly rocket speed.

Even if missile mail wasn't a financially or logistically feasible way to send the mail on a regular basis, the test likely proved worthwhile just for the bragging rights. “Ostensibly an experiment in communication transportation,” Nancy A. Pope writes on the National Postal Museum’s blog, “the Regulus’ mail flight sent a subtle signal that in the midst of the Cold War, the U.S. military was capable of such accuracy in missile flight that it could be considered for use by the post office.”

And it wasn’t so strange that the USPS was trying out newfangled technology in its quest to get mail across the country as fast as possible. As the rail industry declined, it was becoming more expensive and less efficient to send mail by train. Throughout the early 20th century, the U.S. Postal Service looked into a number of alternatives, including post office buses that would travel from town to town sorting mail along the way, intercity helicopter mail, and other ideas that harnessed ways of delivering mail that would have been unthinkable a few decades before. But in the end, improving roads to make it easier to send trucks around the country proved a better financial plan than using guided military missiles.

[h/t Today I Found Out]

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