Message in a bottle
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 distress messages, memorial tributes, final reports and letters from those believing themselves to be doomed, and communications to actual or imagined love interests. Message-in-a-bottle lore has often been of a romantic or poetic nature.
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; and from the Galapagos Islands to Queensland, Australia. Some drift bottles were not found for more than a century after being launched.
History, design and development
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.
Drift bottle studies confirmed in the mid-1800s the characteristics of the Gulf Stream, 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. Drift bottle returns also provided information about surface currents and helped researchers develop ocean circulation maps.
The U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey (C&GS) used drift bottles from 1846 to 1966. 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.
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. Water pressure pressing on the closure (cork) was thought to keep a bottle better sealed. 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. 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. A mushroom-shaped sea-bed drifter design has also been used. Vessels of less scientific designs have survived for extended periods, including a baby food bottle and a 7-Up bottle.
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. 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. With increased awareness that drift bottles could harm marine life or constitute waste material, biodegradable drift cards are gaining favor.
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.
When Christopher Columbus encountered a severe storm while returning from America, he is said to have written on parchment what he had found in the New World and requested it be forwarded to King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella, enclosed the parchment in a waxed cloth and placed it into a large wooden barrel to be cast into the sea. The communication was never found.
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.
In 1876 on the remote Scottish island of St Kilda, freelance journalist John Sands and marooned Austrian sailors deployed two messages requesting the Austrian Consul rescue them with provisions. The messages, each enclosed in a cocoa tin attached to a sheep’s bladder for flotation in an arrangement later called a "St. Kilda mail boat," were discovered in Orkney within nine days and in Ross-Shire after 22 days. Since that time, sending "St. Kilda mail" has become a recreational ritual for island visitors, the containers often riding the Gulf Stream to the British mainland, Shetland, Orkney and Scandinavia.
Message-bearing bottles from the Titanic (1912) and Lusitania (1915) have been widely recounted as fact, but even before these bottles were found the The Irish News stated in April 1912 that "very many" such stories turn out to be "cruel hoaxes."
In February 1916, German Zeppelin L 19 experienced unfavorable weather, battle damage and multiple engine failure after attacking the British Midlands, its commander's last message to superiors and the crew's final letters to relatives being released into the North Sea to be found on a Swedish coast six months later. The written descriptions of how a British fishing trawler had refused to rescue the downed Zeppelin's crew—the trawler captain claiming he feared the German airmen would overpower his own unarmed crew—contributed to an enduring international controversy.
On Christmas Day 1945, 21-year-old medical corpsman Frank Hayostek threw a message-laden aspirin bottle from his Liberty ship as it approached New York, the bottle being found eight months later near Dingle, County Kerry, by Irish milkmaid Breda O'Sullivan. Her mailed reply began a correspondence that inspired Hayostek to save money for airfare to visit O'Sullivan in 1952. Intense media attention for the "impossibly romantic story," including Time magazine stories, overshadowed their two-week visit, the two parting but corresponding until they married other people in 1958 and 1959. Media attention endured through the sixtieth anniversary of their meeting, 2–3 years after their deaths.
In 1956, Swedish sailor Ake Viking sent a bottled message “To Someone Beautiful and Far Away” that reached a 17-year-old Sicilian girl named Paolina, sparking a correspondence that culminated in their marriage in 1958. The affair attracted so much attention that 4,000 people celebrated their wedding.
In what was described as "perhaps the most famous message in a bottle love story," in March 1999 a green ginger beer bottle was dredged up by a fisherman off the Essex coast, the bottle containing an 84 year old letter tossed into the English channel on September 9, 1914 by British soldier Private Thomas Hughes days before he was killed in fighting in France. Hughes' letter, written for delivery to his wife who had died in 1979, was delivered instead to his then 86-year-old daughter in New Zealand by the fisherman himself, who with his own wife was flown to New Zealand at the expense of the New Zealand Post.
In May 2005, three days after eighty-eight migrants were abandoned by human smugglers on a disabled boat, the migrants tied an SOS-bearing bottle to a long line of a passing fishing vessel, whose captain alerted authorities to rescue the migrants.
An early-20th-century "bottom" drift bottle design by Mr. George Parker Bidder III involved weighting the bottle with a long copper wire that causes it to sink until the wire trails upon the sea bottom, at which time the bottle tends to remains floating a few inches above the bottom to be moved by the bottom current. On December 10, 2006, a bottom drift bottle, released on April 25, 1914 northeast of the Shetland Islands by the Marine Laboratory, Aberdeen, U.K., was recovered by a Shetland fisherman, after the bottle had spent over 92 years at sea. Another bottom drift bottle recovered in April 2012 by a fisherman had been released 98 years earlier, on June 10, 1914, one of 1,890 released by the Glasgow School of Navigation to test undercurrents in the seas around Scotland. The 2012 find occurred east of Shetland by the Copious, the same fishing vessel involved in the 2006 find.
In October 2011 in waters off Somalia, the crew of the pirated cargo ship Montecristo used a bottle with a flashing beacon to alert NATO ships that they had retreated to an armored room, permitting a military rescue operation to proceed with knowledge that the crew was not being held hostage.
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. 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.
In April 2013, a kite-surfer near the mouth of Croatia's Neretva River recovered a bottle containing a message purporting to have been sent in 1985 from Nova Scotia to fulfill a promise by a "Jonathan" to write to one "Mary." The message received international media attention.
In March 2014, a fisherman on the Baltic Sea near Kiel recovered a drift bottle containing a Danish postcard dated May 17, 1913 and signed by a then-20-year-old baker's son named Richard Platz, who asked for it to be delivered to his Berlin address. Researchers located Platz's granddaughter, by then 62, and delivered the 101-year-old message to her, Platz himself having died in 1946.
An April 2015 find on the North Sea island of Amrum, Germany, 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. The majority were recovered just a few months later, long before the 2015 Amrum find. Releasing bottles designed to float a short distance above the sea bed, Bidder proved for the first time that deep sea currents flowed from east to west in the North Sea.
In 2016, Cuban migrants who had fled Cuba in a homemade boat, launched a bottled SOS message complaining of their treatment while being detained for 42 days aboard a United States Coast Guard Cutter.
Despite being launched substantial time periods before being found, some bottles have been found physically close to their launch locations, such as a message launched by two girls in 1915 and found in 2012 near Harsens Island, Michigan, U.S., and a ten-year-old girl's message in a 7-Up bottle launched into the Indian River Bay in Delaware, U.S. in 1971 and found in adjacent Delaware Seashore State Park in 2016.
|Sender||Date launched||Place launched||Date found||Place found||Duration (years)||Ref.|
|Chunosuke Matsuyama, seaman||1784||Island in Pacific||1935||Hiraturemura, Japan||151|||
|Marine Biological Association of the United Kingdom||1904-1906||North Sea||2015-04||Amrum, Germany||108|||
|Richard Platz||1913-05-17||Baltic Sea||2014-03||Baltic Sea near Kiel||101|||
|Glasgow School of Navigation||1914-06-10||Near Scotland||2012-04||East of Shetland||98|||
|Selina Pramstaller, Tillie Esper||1915||Harsens Island, Michigan, U.S.||2012||Harsens Island, Michigan, U.S.||96|||
|Marine Laboratory, Aberdeen||1914-04-25||Near Scotland||2006-12-10||Near Shetland||92|||
|Thomas Hughes, WWI soldier||1914-09-09||English Channel||1999-03||Essex, River Thames||84|||
|(undetermined)||1935||Southampton Guildhall, U.K.||2016||Southampton Guildhall, U.K.||81|||
|Auschwitz prisoners, age 18-20||1944-09-20||Near Auschwitz camp||2009-04||Wall of bomb shelter||64|||
|WHOI||1956-04-26||South of Nova Scotia||2014-01-20||Sable Island||57|||
|NOAA's NEFSC||1959-09-19||Atlantic, off Massachusetts||2013-12-22||Martha's Vineyard, Mass.||54|||
|NOAA Fisheries||1966||Bristol Bay, Alaska, U.S.||2013||Cold Bay, Alaska, U.S.||47|||
|Girl, age 6||1971-09-06||Indian River Bay, Delaware, U.S.||2016-04-22||Del. Seashore State Park||44|||
|Boy, age 14||1971-01-15||Cove Bay, Aberdeen, U.K.||2015||Rattray Head, Aberdeenshire||44|||
|Boy, age 16||1980-05-13||Albany, W. Australia||2016-06||Eucla, W. Australia||36|||
|"Jonathan"||1985||Nova Scotia (purported)||2013-04-17||Croatia||28|||
Besides interest in citizen science drift bottle experiments, message-in-a-bottle lore has often been of a romantic or poetic nature. Such messages have been romanticized in literature, from Edgar Allen Poe’s 1833 “MS. Found in a Bottle” through Nicholas Sparks' 1998 Message in a Bottle. In Newsweek Ryan Bort recounted various historical messages as being cries for help, or "final, poetic words of resignation left behind for (an) indifferent sea," or from "lonely, lovelorn souls, searching for serendipity," or a search for "affirmation ... that comes from somewhere other than yourself." Bort described sending a message in a bottle as a romantic act that has "such a delicious potential for magic" or as "surrendering a part of yourself to something larger," concluding that "every message in a bottle is a prayer."
Finding a bottled message has generally been viewed positively, the finder of a 98-year-old message referring to his find as winning the lottery. However, intense media attention over a personal relationship that resulted from one woman's find, is said to have caused her to remark that had she known what would happen, she would have left the bottle on the beach.
Similar methods using other media
The term "message in a bottle" has been applied to techniques of communication that do not literally involve a bottle or a water transmission medium, 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.
Balloon mail involves sending undirected messages through the air rather than into bodies of water. 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.
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. 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.
- Drifter (floating device)
- Flotsam, jetsam, lagan, and derelict
- Friendly Floatees, plastic bath toys accidentally released in the Pacific in 1992. Their recovery on land validated oceanographers' models of ocean currents.
- Ice rafting
- Swallow float
- Time capsule
- List of crowdsourcing projects
- 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.
- 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.
- White, Jorgia (February 27, 2016). "Queensland police officer finds message in a bottle". Brisbane Times. Archived from the original on March 22, 2016.
- Huggler, Justin (August 20, 2015). "World's oldest message in a bottle washes up in Germany after 108 years at sea". The Telegraph. Archived from the original on January 30, 2016.
- "'World's oldest' message in a bottle arrives home". The Local (Germany). 8 April 2014. Archived from the original on January 14, 2015.
- 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.
- 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.
- Penry, Jerry (March 2007). "Message in a Bottle" (PDF). The American Surveyor. Archived (PDF) from the original on September 23, 2014.
- "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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Pinsky, Clara (2013-07-14). "Sending out an S.O.S.". New York (magazine). Archived from the original on March 7, 2016.
- Bergreen, Laurence (September 25, 2012). Columbus: The Four Voyages, 1492-1504 (Reprint ed.). Penguin Books. ISBN 978-0143122104. "Part One: Discovery" (exact page does not show in Google Books preview).
- 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.
- Verne, Jules (1874). "Chapter 1. The Shark". In Search of the Castaways (Project Gutenberg eBook released August 16, 2014 ed.). J.B. Lippincott & Co., Philadelphia (original publisher). Archived from the original on March 27, 2016.
- Murray, Keegan (March 27, 2016). "Sandwick bairns find 'St Kilda Mailboat'". The Shetland Times. Archived from the original on April 16, 2016.
- "St Kilda Mail Boat reaches Norway". Stornoway Gazette. October 28, 2015. Archived from the original on October 29, 2015.
- Moloney, Senan (April 2, 2016). "Faces of the Titanic: Jeremiah Burke sent a message in a bottle before his death". IrishCentral.com. Archived from the original on April 15, 2016. Moloney quotes passages from other newspapers, including The Irish News.
- "Das Tragödie von L19 (The tragedy of L19)" (in German). Zeppelin-Museums Tondern (Denmark). Archived from the original on July 2, 2002.
- "Last Messages from "L 19"". Flightglobal. August 17, 1916. p. 707. Archived from the original on November 4, 2014.
- See "Inside Out investigates why air raid on Midlands led to British fisherman being accused of war crimes". BBC. February 15, 2005. Archived from the original on March 6, 2005.
- Quinlan, Ailin (August 5, 2012). "The GI and the Irish colleen". Irish Independent. Archived from the original on August 1, 2016.
- See "Documentary on One: Message in a Bottle". RTÉ Radio One. August 4, 2012. Archived from the original on May 25, 2015. Site includes downloadable mp3 podcast.
- Breyer, Melissa (August 11, 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, with a 1959 quotation from The American Weekly, at "Man Meets Wife Via Message-in-a-Bottle", hoaxes.org, August 18, 2007 (archive).
- Randazzo, Antonio (2008). "Sposi in bottiglia Siracusa (Spouse in a Bottle -- Syracuse)". Archived from the original on August 15, 2016. Images also here.
- Bort, Ryan (March 7, 2016). "A Brooklyn Artist, the North Atlantic Garbage Patch and the Magic of the Message in a Bottle". Newsweek. Archived from the original on April 16, 2016.
- "Sweet message in a bottle". BBC News. May 18, 1999. Archived from the original on October 30, 2009. • Other references (example: Commonwealth War Graves Commission) state that Hughes died twelve days later, not two days later as most popularly reported.
- Jimenez, Marianela (May 31, 2005). "Message in bottle saves stranded migrants". The Guardian; Associated Press. Archived from the original on August 29, 2013.
- Madrigal, Alexis C. (September 5, 2012). "Found: World's Oldest Message in a Bottle, Part of 1914 Citizen-Science Experiment". The Atlantic. Archived from the original on March 4, 2016.
- "Oldest message in a bottle". Guinness World Records. February 2, 2012. Archived from the original on February 2, 2012. Guinness web page was subsequently superseded; refer instead to archive link.
- Pfeiffer, Eric (August 30, 2012). "98-year-old message in bottle sets world record". Yahoo News. Archived from the original on July 30, 2016.
- "World record as message in bottle found after 98 years near Shetland". BBC. August 30, 2012. Archived from the original on December 29, 2015.
- Rawnsley, Adam (October 14, 2011). "Message in a Bottle: Old-School S.O.S. Helps Rescue Hijacked Ship". Wired. Archived from the original on August 17, 2016.
- 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.
- "Pirates empty big yellow bottle". Canarian Weekly (Canary Islands). September 6, 2013. Archived from the original on July 30, 2016.
- "Message in a bottle washes up after 28 years". Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC Online); Reuters. April 18, 2013. Archived from the original on April 9, 2014.
- Šunjić, Ante (April 17, 2013). "Matea pronašla bocu s porukom o kojoj pišu svi svjetski mediji (Matea found a bottle with a message world media would write about)" (in Croatian). Dubrovack Vjesnik (Croatia). Archived from the original on April 20, 2013.
- 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.
- Gordon, James (June 19, 2013). "Revealed: The young woman who threw a message in a bottle into a Michigan river in 1915 - before it was found by a diver a century later". Daily Mail. Archived from the original on June 10, 2015.
- "'Oldest' message in a bottle found more than 108 years on". BBC. August 21, 2015. Archived from the original on June 22, 2016.
- "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.
- "'Message in a bottle' discovered in Southampton". ITV. February 9, 2016. Archived from the original on February 10, 2016.
- • "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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Brogan, Jan (February 12, 2013). "Messages in a bottle chart a lifelong romance with the sea". The Boston Globe. Archived from the original on February 17, 2013.
- 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.
- 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.
- "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.
- 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.
- 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.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Message in a bottle.|
- Hume, Mark (15 September 2013). "B.C. man unearths a message in a bottle dated to 1906". The Globe and Mail. Archived from the original on March 4, 2016. Retrieved 2013-09-16. (unverified report of unopened 107-year-old find).
- McKeon, Gina (April 29, 2014). "Message in a bottle: 10 famous floating note discoveries". Australian Broadcasting Corporation. Archived from the original on January 26, 2016.
- Wollan, Malia (March 27, 2015). "How to Find a Message in a Bottle". The New York Times. Archived from the original on April 21, 2015. ("some 90 percent of marine debris washes up on less than 10 percent of the world’s coastlines").