It sounds like something straight out of Captain Quint's monologue: "28,800 plastic turtles, ducks, beavers and frogs went into the water, a few hundred washed up in Alaska, the wind and tides took the rest."
15 years after a container of child bath toys tumbled into the Pacific, the Friendly Floatie flotilla is still sailing the world's oceans and has started to arrive on the shores of Britain. They have been buffeted by storms, gnawed by animals and frozen in pack ice, but they would have encountered harsh conditions in a toddler's bath, too, and their rugged construction makes them an invaluable aid to oceanographers studying ocean circulation patterns. There is a $100 reward from the toy's American distributor, First Years Inc., for any beachcomber finding one and reporting the location where it made landfall.
The ducks and other flotsam from the lost container began their journey in mid-Pacific at the International Date Line and 45th parallel in January, 1992. Curtis C. Ebbesmeyer has been tracking them since then and traces the Rubber Duck Armada's dispersal in this Beachcombers Alert:
"After the tub toys first arrived in Sitka, flocks headed west along coastal Alaska and the Aleutian Islands where — 3,500 miles from the spill — hundreds invaded Shemya...Many continued on westward to Kamchatka, Japan, then redoubled the Pacific back to Sitka completing the 6,800 mile loop around the Pacific Ocean’s northernmost gyre, the North Pacific Subpolar Gyre..."
Research, aided by beachcomber finds, indicates that the ducks and their other plastic companions made 4 circuits of the Gyre in cycles averaging three years. As many as 19,000 of the toys drifted into the larger Subtropical Gyre and reached Australia and South America. Another group headed into the Arctic and moved eastward, often frozen in pack ice, to Greenland and the Gulf of Maine where they started turning up in 2003. The ones approaching Great Britain were caught up in the Gulf stream. Those that remain afloat could continue their journeys for decades to come.