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.

Up in the Air: When 'Balloon Boy' Took Flight

John Moore, Getty Images
John Moore, Getty Images

It was like a Weekly World News cover come to life. On October 15, 2009, most of the major network and cable broadcasters interrupted their daytime programming to cover what appeared to be a silver flying saucer streaking through the air. Out of context, it was as though the world was getting its first sight of a genuine UFO.

Reading the scroll at the bottom, or listening to the somewhat frantic newscasters, provided an explanation: It was not alien craft but a homemade balloon that had inadvertently taken off from the backyard of a family home in Fort Collins, Colorado. That, of course, was not inherently newsworthy. What made this story must-see television was the fact that authorities believed a 6-year-old boy was somehow trapped inside.

As the helium-filled balloon careened through the air and toward Denver International Airport, millions of people watched and wondered if its passenger could survive the perilous trip. When the craft finally touched down after floating for some 60 miles, responders surrounded it, expecting the worst. The boy was nowhere to be seen. Had he already fallen out?

The brief saga that became known as the Balloon Boy incident was one of the biggest indictments of the burgeoning worlds of reality television and breathless 24/7 news coverage. It seemed to check off every box that observers associated with societal decline. There was the morbidity of a child speeding through the air without control; the unwavering gaze of news networks who cut away from reports on world affairs and even ignored their commercial breaks to obtain footage of an aircraft that measure around 20 feet wide and 5 feet high and resembled a bag of Jiffy Pop.

 

The boy in question was Falcon Heene, one of Richard and Mayumi Heene's three children. The couple had met in California and bonded over their mutual desire to get into the entertainment business. Richard dreamed of becoming a comedian; Mayumi played guitar. The couple married in 1997 and eventually relocated to Colorado; they got their first taste of Hollywood in 2008, when they made their first of two appearances on the reality series Wife Swap.

But Richard Heene wanted more. The avid tinkerer envisioned a show that followed his family around, while at the same time working on his new inventions—one of which was sitting in his backyard. It was essentially a Mylar balloon staked to the ground, which he would later describe as a very early prototype for a low-altitude commuter vehicle.

 sheriff's deputies seach a field for Falcon Heene before learning he had been found October 15, 2009 southeast of Ft. Collins, Colorado
Sheriff's deputies search a Colorado field for Falcon Heene before learning he had been found safe at home.
John Moore, Getty Images

It was this balloon, Bradford Heene told police in 2009, that his brother Falcon had climbed into just before it had taken flight. Earlier, Richard said, Falcon had been playing near the contraption and was scolded for potentially creating a dangerous situation. Now, Falcon was gone, the balloon was in the air, and Falcon's parents feared the worst. Mayumi called the authorities.

“My other son said that Falcon was at the bottom of the flying saucer,” Mayumi told the 911 dispatcher. “I can’t find him anywhere!”

As news cameras watched and the National Guard and U.S. Forest Service followed, the balloon reached an altitude of 7000 feet. Police made a painstaking search of the Heene household, looking for any sign of Falcon. After three passes, they determined it was possible he was inside the balloon.

Approximately one hour later, the balloon seemed to deflate. Authorities cleared the air space near Denver International Airport and greeted the craft as it landed, tethering it to the ground so no air current could hoist it back up and out of reach.

No one was inside the small cabin under the balloon, which left three possibilities: Falcon was hiding somewhere, he had run away ... or he had fallen out.

 

Not long after the craft had landed, a police officer at the Heene house decided to investigate an attic space above the garage. It had gone ignored because it didn’t seem possible Falcon could have reached the entrance on his own.

Yet there he was, hiding.

Elated, authorities explained to the media that they thought Falcon had untethered the balloon by accident and then hid because he knew his father would be upset with him.

Jim Alderden, the sheriff of Colorado's Larimer County, assured reporters that the Heenes had not done anything suspect. They demonstrated all the concern for their missing child that one would expect. Alderden stuck to that even after the Heenes were interviewed on CNN and Falcon appeared to slip up. When asked by Wolf Blitzer if he had heard his parents calling for him, the boy admitted that he had but was ignoring them “for a show.”

Though the Heenes seemed to scramble to cover up for their son's gaffe, Blitzer didn’t appear to register the comment at first. He came back around to it, though, insisting on clarification. Richard would later state that Falcon was referring to the news cameras who wanted to see where he had been hiding. That was the "show" he meant.

Alderden reiterated that he didn’t think the boy could remain still and quiet for five hours in an attic if he had been instructed to. But he admitted the CNN interview raised questions. After initially clearing the family of any wrongdoing, Alderden said he would sit down and speak to them again.

Within the week, Alderden was holding a press conference with an entirely different mood. He solemnly explained that the Heenes had perpetuated a hoax and speculated that they could be charged with up to three felonies, including conspiracy and contributing to the delinquency of a minor. Outlets had already tracked down an associate of Richard’s who detailed his reality series idea, with one episode devoted to the balloon.

 

Richard and Mayumi voluntarily turned themselves into authorities. They each pled guilty: Richard for attempting to influence a public servant and Mayumi for making a false report. In addition to paying $36,016 in restitution, Richard wound up with a 90-day jail sentence, 60 days of which was served on supervised work release. Mayumi got 20 days. Though they pled guilty, Richard maintained that he and his family had not perpetuated any kind of a hoax. In a 2010 video posted to YouTube, Richard said he only pled guilty because authorities were threatening to deport his wife.

Mayumi, meanwhile, reportedly told police it had all been an act (though critics of the prosecution argued that Mayumi's imperfect English made that confession open to interpretation). Mayumi later stated she had no firm understanding of the word "hoax."

Richard Heene and his wife, Mayumi Heene (R) are flanked by members of the media after they both plead guilty to charges related to the alleged hoax of the couple claiming that their son, Falcon Heene was last month onboard a helium balloon, at the Larime
Richard and Mayumi Heene surrounded by the media after they both plead guilty to charges related to the "Balloon Boy Hoax" on November 13, 2009.
Matt McClain, Getty Images

In addition to the fine and jail sentences, the judge also mandated that the family not seek to profit from the incident for a period of four years, which meant any potential for Richard to grab a reality show opportunity would be put on hold until long after the public had lost interest in the "Balloon Boy."

The Heenes moved to Florida in 2010, and soon after their three boys formed a heavy metal band—reputed to be the world’s youngest—dubbed the Heene Boyz. They’ve self-released several albums, and in 2014 even released a song called "Balloon Boy No Hoax."

Richard also peddles some of his inventions, including a wall-mounted back scratcher that allows users to alleviate itching by rubbing up against it. It’s called the Bear Scratch.

In October 2019, Robert Sanchez, a writer for 5280 magazine in Denver, profiled the Heenes and produced a smoking gun of sorts. Sanchez, who was allowed access to the Heene case file by Mayumi's defense attorney, discovered copies of Mayumi's notes about the events leading up to the flight. In one entry, she disclosed Richard had asked her about the possibility of letting the craft go off while Falcon remained in the basement, stirring up attention for the news networks. Later, when the saucer flew away, Richard was confused when Falcon wasn't downstairs. (He chose instead to hide in the attic.) That made the Heenes believe he might really be inside.

When confronted with the document, Mayumi told Sanchez she had made that story up in an attempt to "save" herself and her children, presumably from being separated in the ensuing legal struggle. In the Balloon Boy story, the saucer may have come crashing back to Earth, but the truth remains up in the air.

Invasive Snakehead Fish That Can Breathe on Land Is Roaming Georgia

Mohd Fazlin Mohd Effendy Ooi, Flickr // CC BY 2.0
Mohd Fazlin Mohd Effendy Ooi, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

A fish recently found in Georgia has wildlife officials stirred up. In fact, they’re advising anyone who sees a northern snakehead to kill it on sight.

That death sentence might sound extreme, but there’s good reason for it. The northern snakehead, which can survive for brief periods on land and breathe air, is an invasive species in North America. With one specimen found in a privately owned pond in Gwinnett County, the state wants to take swift action to make certain the fish, which is native to East Asia, doesn’t continue to spread. Non-native species can upset local ecosystems by competing with native species for food and habitat.

The Georgia Department of Natural Resources’ Wildlife Resources Division is advising people who encounter the snakehead—a long, splotchy-brown fish that can reach 3 feet in length—to kill it and freeze it, then report the catch to the agency's fisheries office.

Wildlife authorities believe snakeheads wind up in non-native areas as a result of the aquarium trade or food industry. A snakehead was recently caught in southwestern Pennsylvania. The species has been spotted in 14 states.

[h/t CNN]

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