Saturday, September 1, 2007

Apple #264: Rubber Duckies

Some pretty unpleasant things have been happening in my personal life lately. Unlike other bloggers, I don't want to go into details here. Suffice to say, it's sad.

Some time has passed and I'm able to contemplate making more Daily Apples. But it's been hard to come up with an idea. So I tried to think of a topic that is the exact opposite of sad. First thing that came to mind: rubber duckies.

(Image from Wikimedia)

I mean, how much more innocuous does it get?

Maybe part of the reason this came to mind so quickly is that my previous entry was something from Sesame Street. Regardless, the first thing to say about rubber duckies is that they were Ernie's favorite toy and the subject of another hit Sesame Street song. (It's just a little too cutesy for me to post here. But if you want to watch him sing his song, here it is on YouTube.)

Then I found this other little tidbit about some rogue rubber duckies that have been traveling the world's oceans since 1992:
  • A cargo ship departing from China lost its container of 29,000 bath toys -- plastic yellow ducks, blue turtles, red beavers (I know), and green frogs -- in January 1992. The toys have been bobbing in the ocean ever since.
  • Because they are so much easier to spot than the current-tracking floats scientists typically use, people are more likely to report seeing them, and thus scientists have collected some especially interesting data about currents thanks to the floating rubber duckies.
  • In fact, they had been in the ocean so long and sightings of them had become so valuable that by 2003, the US company that had them made, The First Years Inc., was offering a $100 US savings bond reward to anyone who found them. (That offer ended in December of 2003)
  • By June 2007, the toys had traveled an estimated 17,000 miles. Here are some of the highlights of their journey:

(Diagram from the Daily Mail)

      • January 1992 - shipwrecked in the Pacific Ocean, off the coast of China
      • November 1992 - half had drifted north to the Bering Sea and Alaska; the other half went south to Indonesia and Australia
      • 1995 to 2000 - spent five years in the Arctic ice floes, slowly working their way through the glaciers
      • 2001 - the duckies bobbed over the place where the Titanic had sunk
      • 2003 - they were predicted to begin washing up onshore in New England, but only one was spotted in Maine
      • 2007 - a couple duckies and frogs were found on the beaches of Scotland and southwest England.

This is Curt Ebbesmeyer, who's been tracking the bath toys since they busted loose in 1992.
Photo by W. James Ingraham of NOAA, sourced from The Lede)

  • In all, roughly 125 of the toys have been found, nearly all in Alaska. Though some were a bit mangled, most were only sun- and salt-bleached.
  • If you think you've found one of the world-traveling rubber duckies, look for the words "The First Years" stamped on it. If it doesn't say that, it's not one of this lot.

Now here are some general facts about rubber duckies:

  • Rubber ducks are believed to have been made sometime in the early 1800s. They did not squeak, and they were made of actual rubber, which made them less than flexible and would probably hurt if you threw one at another kid's head.
  • Rubber ducks today are made of vinyl plastic that looks like rubber, but is more flexible and durable (the world-traveling rubber duckies being a good demonstration of their durability).
  • Rubber ducky races are held frequently as a means of raising money for charity.

The launch of a Derby Duck Race in 2006 for Montgomery Hospice in Rockville, Maryland.
(Photo from Montgomery

      • People will purchase the right to race one of 20,000 rubber duckies across Kiwanis Lake.
      • The person whose duck reaches the other side first will win four round-trip tickets anywhere in the United States from US Airways.
      • Proceeds will benefit the Make-a-Wish Foundation which helps children with life-threatening medical conditions.
      • So if you're going to be in Tempe, Arizona on September 15, go race a duck!

If you want to play some wacky online rubber ducky games, try Rubber Duck I especially recommend the Pin the Beak on the Ducky game -- but be sure to move the beak to all sorts of places and very fast to experience the true cacophony.

Ben Clerkin, "Thousands of rubber ducks to land on British shores after 15 year journey,"
Daily Mail, June 27, 2007
Simon de Bruxelles, Plastic duck armada is heading for Britain after 15-year global voyage," Times Online, June 28, 2007
"Rubber Duckies Map the World," CBS Evening News, July 31, 2003
Peter Ford, "Drifting rubber duckies chart oceans of plastic," The Christian Science Monitor, July 31, 2003
Seabean, Plastic Duckies aka Rubber Duckies
Rubaduck, Rubber Ducks Circumnavigate the Globe, August 21, 2007

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