Message in a bottle

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
This bottle and its contents (sample postcard and insert shown above) were launched in 1959 as part of the U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey, and were found in 2013.[1]

A message in a bottle is a form of communication whereby a message is sealed in a container (archetypically a bottle) and released into a medium (archetypically a large body of water).

Messages in bottles have been used in crowdsourced scientific studies of ocean currents, as well as to send SOS distress messages, memorial tributes, final reports and letters from those believing themselves to be doomed, and communications to actual or imagined love interests.

History, design and development[edit]

In the sixteenth century, Queen Elizabeth I created an official position of "Uncorker of Ocean Bottles", and—thinking some bottles might contain secrets from British spies or fleets—decreed that anyone else opening the bottles could face the death penalty.[2][3]

Drift bottle studies confirmed in the mid-1800s the characteristics of the Gulf Stream,[4] and have provided a simple way to learn about non-tidal movement of waters containing eggs and larvae of commercially important fishes, for sharing among fisheries scientists and oceanographers.[5] The U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey (C&GS) had used drift bottles to track ocean currents since 1846, the last ones released between 1958 and 1966.[1] More recently, technologies involving satellite tags, fixed current profilers and satellite communication have permitted more efficient analysis of ocean currents: at any given time, thousands of modern "drifters" transmit position and information such as temperature and velocity to satellites more than a dozen times a day, avoiding conventional drift bottles' dependence on serendipitous finds and cooperation by conscientious citizens.[6]

Traditional drift bottles from the Glasgow (Scotland) School of Navigation, released in the early 1900s, were specially weighted to bob along the seabed rather than to float, hopefully to be scooped up by a trawler or wash up on shore.[2] Water pressure pressing on the closure (cork) was thought to keep a bottle better sealed.[2] In other studies, some bottles were ballasted with dry sand so that they would float vertically at or near the ocean surface, and would be less influenced by winds and breaking waves than other bottles that were purposely not ballasted.[5] Still other bottles were ballasted with four feet of copper wire in the cork (to cause them to drift along the bottom), and included a wooden stick to stop the cork from imploding.[5] A mushroom-shaped sea-bed drifter design has also been used.[5] Vessels of less scientific designs have survived for extended periods, including a baby food bottle[7] and a 7-Up bottle.[8]

Drift bottles have traveled great distances, including: from the Beaufort Sea above northern Alaska and northwestern Canada to northern Europe; from Antarctica to Tasmania; from Mexico to the Philippines; from Canada's Labrador Sea and Baffin Bay to Irish, French, Scottish, and Norwegian beaches;[2] and from the Galapagos Islands to Queensland, Australia.[9] Other drift bottles were not found for more than a century after being launched.[2][10][11]

A low percentage of bottles—thought to be less than 3%—are actually recovered, so they are released in large numbers, sometimes in the thousands.[4] Though the C&GS stopped using conventional drift bottles in 1966, some conservation agencies continue to use them into the 21st century, such as to study invasive species or simulate oil spills.[4] With increased awareness that drift bottles could harm marine life or constitute waste material, biodegradable drift cards are gaining favor.[4]

Historical examples[edit]

The first recorded messages in bottles were released around 310 BC by the Ancient Greek philosopher Theophrastus, as part of an experiment to show that the Mediterranean Sea was formed by the inflowing Atlantic Ocean.[12]

On his return to Spain following his first voyage to the New World, Christopher Columbus' ship entered a severe storm. Columbus threw a report of his discovery along with a note asking it to be passed on to the Queen of Castile, in a sealed cask into the sea, hoping the news would make it back even if he did not survive. Columbus did survive and the sealed report was never found.[verification needed]

In the 16th century, the English navy, among others, used bottle messages to send ashore information about enemy positions.[3]

In 1784 Chunosuke Matsuyama sent a message detailing his and 43 shipmates' shipwrecking in a bottle that washed ashore and was found in 1935 by a Japanese seaweed collector in the village of Hiraturemura, Matsuyama's birthplace.[2][13]

Since 1876, people have often used messages adrift in containers to communicate from the remote Scottish island of St Kilda. [14]

In 1914, British World War I soldier Private Thomas Hughes tossed a green ginger beer bottle containing a letter to his wife into the English Channel. He was killed two days later fighting in France. In 1999, fisherman Steve Gowan dredged up the bottle in the River Thames. Although the intended recipient of the letter had died in 1979, it was delivered in 1999 to Private Hughes' 86-year-old daughter living in New Zealand.[15]

In February 1916 the doomed crew of Zeppelin L 19 dropped their last messages to their superiors and loved ones into the North Sea. These washed up on the Kattegat coast near Gothenburg, Sweden six months later.[16][17]

In December 1945, American World War II veteran Frank Hayostek tossed a bottle over the side of his ship. It was recovered by an Irish milk maid, Breda O'Sullivan who set off an exchange of letters that lasted seven years before the two met. Amid an international media circus, the two were never able to get their romance off the ground.

In 1956, Swedish sailor Ake Viking sent a bottled message “To Someone Beautiful and Far Away” that was found in Sicily by a Sicilian woman named Paolina, sparking a correspondence that culminated in their marriage in 1958.[18]

In May 2005 eighty-eight shipwrecked migrants were rescued off the coast of Costa Rica. They had placed an SOS message in a bottle and tied it to one of the long lines of a passing fishing vessel.[19]

On 10 June 1914, a scientist from the Glasgow (Scotland) School of Navigation cast 1,890 bottles into the ocean to test undercurrents in the seas around Scotland. One of those bottles was recovered in 2012, and was confirmed by Guinness World Records to be then the oldest message in a bottle found — 98 years.[20] The bottle was found east of Shetland by Andrew Leaper, skipper of the Shetland-based vessel Copious, the same fishing vessel involved in the previous record recovery.[21]

That previous record was a find that spent 92 years 229 days at sea. A bottom drift bottle, numbered 423B, was released at 60° 50'N 00° 38'W (about halfway between Aberdeen, Scotland and the coast of Denmark) on 25 April 1914 and recovered by fisherman Mark Anderson of Bixter, Shetland, UK, on 10 December 2006.[22]

This postcard, launched by the Marine Biological Association of the U.K. circa 1906, was found in 2015.[10]

An April 2015 find on the North Sea island of Amrum of a 108-year-old bottle sent by the Marine Biological Association of the United Kingdom in Plymouth, was one of 1,020 released into the North Sea between 1904 and 1906 by former association president George Parker Bidder III.[10] Bidder was conducting research that proved the East-to-West flow of North Sea currents, by releasing bottles designed to float a short distance above the sea bed. Finders were requested, in English, Dutch and German, to return a postcard enclosed in the bottle to the Association.[23] The majority were recovered just a few months later, long before the 2015 Amrum find.[10]

In a 2013 promotional campaign, Norwegian soft drink company Solo released a 26-foot, 2.7-ton replica soda bottle outfitted with a customized camera, navigation lights, an Automatic Identification System, a radar reflector, and GPS tracking technology, all powered through solar panels.[24] The craft drifted from Tenerife, Canary Islands while broadcasting its location, but its electronics were stolen by pirates before its five-month trip terminated at Los Roques archipelago near Venezuela.[25]

On 17 April 2013, a bottle washed up on the shores of a beach on the mouth of the Neretva river, near Dubrovnik, in the far south of Croatia, a full twenty-eight years after being thrown into the sea in Nova Scotia, Canada — a great circle distance of around 4,000 miles, but this bottle probably made a journey at least five times longer.[26]

On 8 April 2014, The Local reported the finding of a drift bottle in the Baltic Sea, containing a postcard written by a German named Richard Platz dated 17 May 1913 who asked for it to be delivered to his address. The Internationales Maritimes Museum Hamburg located his granddaughter, Angela Erdmann, and delivered the message to her.[11]

Bottles have been found close to their launch locations despite substantial times before being found, such as the case of the sister of a Vietnam War casualty launching a memorial in a baby food jar that was found in 2015 in Green Bay, Wisconsin, U.S.,[7] and a ten year old girl's message in a green 7-Up bottle launched into the Indian River Bay in Delaware, U.S. on September 6, 1971 and found in adjacent Delaware Seashore State Park on April 22, 2016.[8]

Cuban migrants who had fled Cuba in a homemade boat, launched a bottled SOS message complaining of their treatment in May-June 2016 while being detained for 42 days aboard a United States Coast Guard Cutter.[27]

Long-duration events involving messages in a bottle
Sender Date launched Place launched Date found Place found Duration (years) Ref.
Chunosuke Matsuyama, Japanese seaman 1784 Island in Pacific 1935 Hiraturemura, Japan 151 [2][13]
Marine Biological Association of the United Kingdom 1904-1906 North Sea 2015-04 Amrum, North Sea 108 [10][23][28]
"Richard Platz" 1913-05-17 Baltic Sea 2014-04 Baltic Sea near Kiel 101 [11]
Glasgow School of Navigation 1914-06-10 Scotland 2012-04 East of Shetland 98 [2][20][21]
Glasgow School of Navigation 1914-04-25 Between Scotland, Denmark 2006-12-10 Shetland 92 [22]
Thomas Hughes, WWI soldier 1914-09-09 English Channel 1999 River Thames 85 [15]
(undetermined) 1935 Southampton Guildhall 2016 Southampton Guildhall 81 [29]
Auschwitz prisoners, age 18-20 1944-09-20 Near Auschwitz camp 2009-04 Wall of bomb shelter 64 [30]
WHOI 1956-04-26 South of Nova Scotia 2014-01-20 Sable Island 57 [31]
NOAA's NEFSC 1959-09-19 Atlantic, off Massachusetts 2013-12-22 Martha's Vineyard, MA 54 [1]
NOAA Fisheries 1966 Bristol Bay, Alaska 2013 Cold Bay, Alaska 47 [6]
Girl, age 6 1971-09-06 Indian River Bay, Delaware, U.S. 2016-04-22 Del. Seashore State Park 44 [8]
Boy, age 14 1971-01-15 Cove, Aberdeen, U.K. 2015 Rattray Head, Aberdeenshire 44 [32]
Boy, age 16 1980-05-13 Albany, W. Australia 2016-06 Eucla, W. Australia 36 [33]
"Jonathan" 1985 Nova Scotia 2013-04-17 Croatia 28 [26]
Sister of Vietnam War casualty 2005 or 1969 Green Bay, WI, U.S. 2015 Green Bay, WI, U.S. 10 - 45 [7]

Similar methods using other media[edit]

The Pioneer plaque (1972, 1973)
The Voyager Golden Record (1977) contained images and encoded sounds

The term "message in a bottle" has been applied to techniques of communication that do not literally involve a bottle, such as the Pioneer plaque (1972, 1973), the Voyager Golden Record (1977), and even radio-borne messages (see Cosmic Call, Teen Age Message, A Message from Earth), all directed into space.[34][35]

Balloon mail involves sending undirected messages through the air rather than into bodies of water.[35] Letters were sent from Paris during the Prussian siege in 1870 by hot air balloon, the only way communications from the besieged city could reach the rest of France.[36]

Stationary time capsules have been termed "messages in a bottle," such as a 1935 message in a lemonade bottle correctly portending difficult times, which was found in 2016 by masons restoring damaged Portland stone at Southampton Guildhall.[29] More durable examples are the Westinghouse Time Capsules of the 1939 and 1964 New York World's Fairs, intended to be opened 5,000 years after their creation.[37]

Prisoners from the Auschwitz concentration camp concealed bottles containing sketches[38] and writings[30] that were found after World War II.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c Dawicki, Shelley (March 14, 2014). "Drift Bottle Found on Martha’s Vineyard Has Quite a Story to Tell". NOAA's Northeast Fisheries Science Center (NEFSC). Archived from the original on February 10, 2015. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h Berlin, Jeremy (20 September 2012). "Oldest Message in Bottle: Behind History's Famous Floating Notes". National Geographic. Archived from the original on May 8, 2016. 
  3. ^ a b Kraske, Robert (1977). The twelve million dollar note: Strange but true tales of messages found in seagoing bottles. T. Nelson; 1st ed. pp. 55–56. ISBN 0-8407-6575-4. 
  4. ^ a b c d Penry, Jerry (March 2007). "Message in a Bottle" (PDF). The American Surveyor. Archived (PDF) from the original on September 23, 2014. 
  5. ^ a b c d Dawicki, Shelley (March 14, 2014). "Message in a Bottle: The Story Behind the Story -- Drift Bottles Helped Determine Distribution of Fish Eggs and Larvae". NOAA's Northeast Fisheries Science Center (NEFSC). Archived from the original on July 25, 2016. 
  6. ^ a b "NWFSC's Own Message in a Bottle: Ocean Drifters and Tiny Tags Have Been Telling Stories for Decades". NOAA's NWFSC. 2013. Archived from the original on July 24, 2016. 
  7. ^ a b c Peterson, Eric (May 27, 2016). "'Message in a bottle' found in bay apparently dates to Vietnam War era". Fox 11 News (Green Bay, WI, U.S.). Archived from the original on May 28, 2016. Peterson, Eric (June 1, 2016). "Message in bottle mystery may be getting clearer". Fox 11 News (Green Bay, WI, U.S.). Archived from the original on June 2, 2016. 
  8. ^ a b c Carroll, Hannah (June 11, 2016). "45-year-old message in a bottle found, brings nostalgia". Associated Press, The Washington Times. Archived from the original on June 12, 2016. 
  9. ^ White, Jorgia (February 27, 2016). "Queensland police officer finds message in a bottle". Brisbane Times. Archived from the original on March 22, 2016. 
  10. ^ a b c d e Huggler, Justin (August 20, 2015). "World's oldest message in a bottle washes up in Germany after 108 years at sea". The Telegraph. Retrieved August 24, 2015. archive.
  11. ^ a b c "'World's oldest' message in a bottle arrives home". The Local. 8 April 2014. Retrieved 10 April 2014. 
  12. ^ Pinsky, Clara (2013-07-14). "Sending out an S.O.S.". New York (magazine). Archived from the original on March 7, 2016. 
  13. ^ a b Kraske, Robert (1977). The Twelve Million Dollar Note: Strange but True Tales of Messages Found in Seagoing Bottles, pp. 30-32. ISBN 0-8407-6575-4.
  14. ^ "St Kilda - Fascinating Facts". The National Trust for Scotland. 2010-09-27. Retrieved 2012-08-30. 
  15. ^ a b "Sweet message in a bottle". BBC News. 1999-05-18. Retrieved 2009-07-10. 
  16. ^ "Das Tragödie von L19" (in German). Zeppelin-Museums Tondern. Retrieved 10 June 2010. Der Kommandant, Kapitänleutnant L o e w e, an seine Vorgesetzten: Mit fünfzehn Mann auf der Plattform ... versuche ich eine letzte Berichterstattung. ... Am 2. Februar 1916 nachmittags, etwa ein Uhr - ist wohl die letzte Stunde. Loewe ... an seine Frau: 2.2.16, mittags 12 Uhr. Letzte Stunde 
  17. ^ "Last Message from L19", Flightglobal, p. 707, August 17, 1916. Accessed July 24, 2016.
  18. ^ Breyer, Melissa (August 18, 2013). "Message in a bottle: 8 striking stories of letters sent to sea". Mother Nature Network. Archived from the original on August 16, 2013.  • Confirmed accurate at "Man Meets Wife Via Message-in-a-Bottle",, August 18, 2007 (archive).
  19. ^ "Message in bottle saves drifting migrants". CNN. 2005-05-31. Archived from the original on 2005-07-29. Retrieved 2006-05-27. 
  20. ^ a b Pfeiffer, Eric, "98-year-old message in bottle sets world record", Yahoo News, August 30, 2012; and Madrigal, Alexis C., "Found: World's Oldest Message in a Bottle, Part of 1914 Citizen-Science Experiment" (WebCite archive), The Atlantic, September 5, 2012.
  21. ^ a b "World record as message in bottle found after 98 years near Shetland", BBC, 30 August 2012.
  22. ^ a b "Oldest Message in a Bottle". Guinness World Records. 
  23. ^ a b "'Oldest' message in a bottle found more than 108 years on - BBC News". BBC Online. 21 August 2015. Retrieved 21 August 2015. 
  24. ^ Fincher, Jonathan (April 18, 2013). "Norwegian soda company sets world's largest message in a bottle adrift". Gizmag. Archived from the original on August 27, 2014. 
  25. ^ "Pirates empty big yellow bottle". Canarian Weekly (Canary Islands). September 6, 2013. Archived from the original on July 30, 2016. 
  26. ^ a b "Message in a bottle from Nova Scotia turns up in Croatia", Digital Journal, 17 April 2013.
  27. ^ Oppmann, Patrick (July 21, 2016). "Cubans who climbed lighthouse allege inhumane treatment in U.S. custody". CNN. Archived from the original on July 22, 2016. 
  28. ^ "Älteste Flaschenpost der Welt auf Amrum gefunden" [World's oldest message in a bottle found at Amrum] (in German). Norddeutscher Rundfunk. August 19, 2015. Archived from the original on February 4, 2016. 
  29. ^ a b "'Message in a bottle' discovered in Southampton". ITV. February 9, 2016. Archived from the original on February 10, 2016. 
  30. ^ a b "Message in a bottle from Auschwitz prisoners found hidden in concrete wall". Daily Mail. April 29, 2009. Archived from the original on September 25, 2015.  Short prisoner list was found in 2009 in a wall of a bomb shelter that prisoners were forced to build. • "Záhadný odkaz väzňov v Osvienčime: Autor je už známy! (Mysterious link from prisoners in Auschwitz: The author is already known!)" (in Slovak). Nový čas. April 30, 2009. Archived from the original on July 29, 2016. 
  31. ^ Lippsett, Lonny (February 6, 2014). "Message Bottled in an Email -- A long-lost legacy of ocean research resurfaces". Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. Archived from the original on October 25, 2016. 
  32. ^ Leatham, Xantha (June 17, 2015). "44-year-old message in a bottle found in Aberdeen". The Scotsman. Archived from the original on January 23, 2016. 
  33. ^ Morrison, Lisa (June 9, 2016). "Bottle message found decades later". The West Australian via Yahoo News Australia. Archived from the original on July 24, 2016. 
  34. ^ Hepburn, Jonathan (February 7, 2016). "Global 'message in a bottle' to be beamed to the stars carrying contributions from the public". Australian Broadcasting Company (ABC). Archived from the original on February 7, 2016. 
  35. ^ a b Keller, C.; Wessolowski, M. (April 5, 2013). "Flaschenpost: Norweger suchen jetzt mit (Message in a Bottle: Norwegians are now seeking)". Zeitungsgruppe Lahn-Dill (MittelHessen = Central Hessian). Archived from the original on February 1, 2015. 
  36. ^ "afp" (February 16, 2016). "145-year-old letter, delivered by balloon, turns up in Australia". Daily Mail. Archived from the original on February 16, 2016. 
  37. ^ Sterbenz, Christina (April 30, 2014). "An Incredibly Ambitious Time Capsule Was Sealed 75 Years Ago Today — Here’s What’s Inside". Business Insider. Archived from the original on March 31, 2016. 
  38. ^ Macbeth, Alex (January 17, 2012). "'Witness to Extermination': Auschwitz Museum Publishes Prisoner Sketchbook". Der Spiegel. Archived from the original on April 18, 2016.  Detailed sketches were found in a camp barracks in 1947.

External links[edit]