Staying on Top

These shoes just did it

Surface currents in the oceans move in large slow circles called gyres. That explains the story of 60,000 Nike shoes spilled from a storm-tossed cargo ship in the northeastern Pacific in May 1990 §.

The shoes washed ashore one at a time but were wearable after a scrub-down to remove barnacles, algae, and tar.

Beachcombers held swap meets to find matched pairs.

Shoes courtesy of Steve McLeod and Donovan Johnson

Six months to a year later, beachcombers from British Columbia to Oregon began to find shoes. Oceanographers constructed a computer model that predicted the shoes' route. In 1993, shoes were found in Hawaii. If the shoes complete the gyre's circuit, they will turn up in Japan and the Philippines, and in 1996 or 1997 again wash up on North American shores §.

The North Pacific gyre has been dropping off shoes around the Pacific since 1990.

1     shoe spill, May 27, 1990
2     250 recovered, March 26, 1991
3     200 recovered, May 18, 1991
4     100 recovered, January-February 1991
5     200 recovered, November-December 1990
6     200 recovered, February-March 1991
7     150 recovered, April 4, 1991
8     200 recovered, May 9-10, 1991
9     several recovered, January-March 1993
10    predicted, January-July 1994

Ocean Planet Exhibition Floorplan

gene carl feldman ( (301) 286-9428

Judith Gradwohl, Smithsonian Institution (Curator/Ocean Planet)