Message in a bottle

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A message in a bottle is a form of communication whereby a message is sealed in a container (archetypically a glass bottle, but could be any medium, so long as it floats and remains waterproof) and released into the sea or ocean. Among other purposes they are used for scientific studies of ocean currents.


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.[1]

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, or, at least, its discovery never reported.[verification needed]

In the 16th century, the English navy, among others, used bottle messages to send ashore information about enemy positions. Queen Elizabeth I created an official position of "Uncorker of Ocean Bottles", and anyone else opening the bottles could face the death penalty.[2][dubious ]

In 1784 Chunosuke Matsuyama sent a message detailing his and 43 shipmates' shipwrecking in a bottle that washed ashore and was found by a Japanese seaweed collector in 1935, in the village of Hiraturemura, the birthplace of Chunosuke Matsuyama.[3]

Since 1876, people have often used messages adrift in containers to communicate from the remote Scottish island of St Kilda. [4]

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.[5]

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.[6]

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 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.[7]

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 the oldest message in a bottle ever found — 98 years.[8] 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.[9]

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.[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.[11] 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.[12] The majority were recovered just a few months later, long before the 2015 Amrum find.[11] In August 2015, the MBA reported that Guinness World Records had been contacted to verify the new record.[13]

On 13 March 2013 the world’s largest message in a bottle weighing 2.5 tons and measuring 30 by 8 feet (9.1 by 2.4 metres) was towed 200 nautical miles off the coast of Tenerife where it was released to the ocean currents.[14] The bottle was registered as a boat and equipped with AIS and radar reflector and navigation lights. It was constructed by Bård Eker. Every eight hours it is uploading photos to its personal Twitter[15] account live via satellite. The initiative was a PR-stunt[15] from Solo who invited people to follow the journey online via a Global Positioning System (GPS) receiver in the bottle, and make a guess of where it would end up. In a press release on 14 August 2013, Solo announced that they had lost satellite contact with the bottle and reached out to Caribbean media in order to inspire locals to keep a look-out.[16] The bottle was ceremonially launched in Marina San Miguel by explorer Jarle Andhøy.[14]

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.[17]

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.[18]

Long-duration drift-bottle events
Sender Date launched Place launched Date found Place found Duration (years) Reference
Chunosuke Matsuyama, Japanese seaman 1784 Island in Pacific 1935 Hiraturemura, Japan 151 [3]
Marine Biological Association of the United Kingdom 1904-1906 North Sea 2015-04 Amrum 108 [11][12][13]
"Richard Platz" 1913-05-17 Baltic Sea 2014-04 Baltic Sea near Kiel 101 [18]
Glasgow School of Navigation 1914-06-10 Scotland 2012 East of Shetland 98 [8][9]
Glasgow School of Navigation 1914-04-25 Between Scotland, Denmark 2006-12-10 Shetland 92 [10]
Thomas Hughes, WWI soldier 1914-09-09 English Channel 1999 River Thames 85 [5]
"Jonathan" 1985 Nova Scotia 2013-04-17 Croatia 28 [17]

Similar methods using other media[edit]

Balloon mail is a similar method of sending undirected messages through the air. The advantage of balloon mail is that it can be launched anywhere and can in principle reach any point on Earth. A further advantage is that it can be launched more effectively, since a bottle dropped into the ocean could be washed back to land by the surf.

The glass interior shell of the Westinghouse Time Capsules of the 1939 New York World's Fair and 1964 New York World's Fair was made of Pyrex, where the exterior metal casing was a special copper alloy of "Cupaloy" (1939) or "Kromarc" stainless steel (1964) to withstand the effects of 5000 years of time, when they are expected to arrive to the people intended.

The United States space agency NASA launched several interstellar "messages in bottles". A graphic message in the form of a 6 by 9-inch gold-anodized aluminium plaque, known as the Pioneer plaque, was bolted to the frames of the Pioneer 10 (launched on 2 March 1972) and Pioneer 11 (launched on 5 April 1972) spacecraft.

In August and September 1977, NASA launched two spacecraft, together called the Voyager Project. Each carries a 12-inch gold-plated copper disk, known as the Voyager Golden Record, containing recorded sounds and images representing human cultures and life on Earth.

In 1999, 2001, 2003 and 2008 the Yevpatoria RT-70 radio telescope has transmitted messages to any potential extraterrestrial civilizations:

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Sending out an S.O.S. - The History of Messages in a Bottle". New York Magazine. Retrieved 2015-07-16. 
  2. ^ 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. 
  3. ^ 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.
  4. ^ "St Kilda - Fascinating Facts". The National Trust for Scotland. 2010-09-27. Retrieved 2012-08-30. 
  5. ^ a b "Sweet message in a bottle". BBC News. 1999-05-18. Retrieved 2009-07-10. 
  6. ^ "Das Tragödie von L19" (in German). Zeppelin-Museums Tondern. Retrieved 10 June 2010. Der Kommandant, Kapitänleutnant L wkireugqire qei bqehr bqrdfw3qbh qfe 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 
  7. ^ "Message in bottle saves drifting migrants". CNN. 2005-05-31. Archived from the original on 2005-07-29. Retrieved 2006-05-27. 
  8. ^ 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.
  9. ^ a b "World record as message in bottle found after 98 years near Shetland", BBC, 30 August 2012.
  10. ^ a b "Oldest Message in a Bottle". Guinness World Records. 
  11. ^ a b c 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.
  12. ^ a b "'Oldest' message in a bottle found more than 108 years on - BBC News". BBC Online. 21 August 2015. Retrieved 21 August 2015. 
  13. ^ a b "Älteste Flaschenpost der Welt auf Amrum gefunden" [World's oldest message in a bottle found at Amrum] (in German). Norddeutscher Rundfunk. 19 August 2015. 
  14. ^ a b "Hot off the press!". Grand Manner. 13 March 2013. Retrieved 25 March 2013. 
  15. ^ a b Andrew Woodall (22 March 2013). "We love a message in a bottle". Guinness World Records. PR Newswire. Retrieved 25 March 2013. 
  16. ^ "The World's Largest Message-In-A-Bottle". PR News Wire. 
  17. ^ a b "Message in a bottle from Nova Scotia turns up in Croatia", Digital Journal, 17 April 2013.
  18. ^ a b "'World's oldest' message in a bottle arrives home". The Local. 8 April 2014. Retrieved 10 April 2014. 

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