x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Scientists make use of rubber ducks to understand ocean currents

A new book explores how a shipment of bath toys changed our understanding of ocean currents.

Oceanographers have tracked the movement of rubber ducks in the ocean.
Oceanographers have tracked the movement of rubber ducks in the ocean.

It sounds unlikely, but an armada of rubber ducks, turtles and frogs has altered scientists' understanding of the path of ocean currents.

In the recently published book Moby Duck, the American essayist Donovan Hohn traces the 20-year voyage of some 29,000 toys, which crossed high seas and freezing terrain to end up on various shores, including Hawaii, Alaska and America's Pacific north-west.

The toys, which were manufactured in China, were inside a crate that fell overboard from a shipping container as it made its 1992 journey from China to the US.

Nicknamed "The Friendly Floaties", oceanographers began studying their journey six months after the accident to gain information about the turbulent nature of currents. Their rise to fame began when the retired oceanographer Curtis Ebbesmeyer began tracking the toys after tracing the original voyage and the site of the accident.

The book also brings to the surface issues surrounding cargo that is lost from container ships - it's estimated that up to 10,000 containers are lost every year.

The author of the new book has said he hopes that, while the story is entertaining, the book will also serve to highlight the environmental pressures facing the oceans.

He told The Independent: "Plastic pollution is a real problem. It's far from the greatest environmental danger to the ocean, but it's one of the most visible, such as overfishing, agricultural run-off and the warming of the oceans."