Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Mystery solved: Severed feet in sneakers

Apologies for the macabre topic, but this is fascinating.  Remember those severed feet in Nikes that kept washing up onto British Columbian shores a few years ago?

Here is a breakdown of the feet and their shoes:

1. Jedediah Island, August 20, 2007, male, right foot, size 12, Adidas sneaker;
2. Gabriola Island, August 26, 2007, male, right foot, size 12, Reebok sneaker;
3. Valdes Island, February 8, 2008, male, right foot, size 10.5, Nike sneaker;
4. Kirkland Island, Fraser River, May 22, 2008, female, right foot, size 7 New Balance sneaker;
5. Westham Island, near mouth of Fraser River, June 16, 2008, male, left foot, Nike size 10.5 sneaker;
[Hoax: Campbell River, June 18, 2008, apparent foot, size 10, Adidas sneaker.]
6. Juan de Fuca Strait, August 1, 2008;
7. Richmond, November 11, 2008, female, left foot, size 7, New Balance sneaker.

Well, according to the authority on sea trash, Beachcombers Alert!, here is the explanation:

"Where do the feet come from? Most likely from the official tally of 2,400 persons missing in British Columbia. Some of these enter the water where, based on my experience, something like half will sink and half will initially float. Over time, the body separates in a process called disarticulation, at the joints into component parts of arms, legs, torso, hands, fingers and so on for a total of twenty some parts. As the feet bloat they become wedged in the sneaker and if the foot separates from the leg, the sneaker’s buoyance may bring it to the water surface where the shoe-foot becomes a surface drifter that moves around from the combined effects of winds, waves, tides and estuarine currents. Eventually the foot falls out of the shoe, and only the foot-sneaker combination is reported. Single sneakers found on the shore without a foot inside are not newsworthy and thus are not reported.

Why in the Strait of Georgia? My view is that the media have focused attention there because of the initial string of right feet — there is a one in sixteen chance that four right would be found in sequence at random — that beachcombers reported. Over the past decades, I’ve collected accounts of human remains stranded round the world. Feet in sneakers have washed up in my home waters of Puget Sound, but they only rated a column inch or so in local newspapers. There is a high population density around the Strait of Georgia. Once the citizenry learned of feet in sneakers they were on the look out and reported more.

Finally, as disarticulation proceeds, the right and left feet separate from the body. The lefts and rights drift in different directions and so fetch up on different shores."

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