By Leslie Slater, US Fish & Wildlife Service, on the Northwest Explorer
This afternoon, sixty miles offshore under a gray sky and cutting through choppy, rolling seas, we encountered a surprise — a large, black buoy drifting near our transect line. Being the only man-made object seen since we left port a few days ago, its shape and size was unusual enough to lure us over to check it out. I originally saw it from about ½ mile away while recording seabird and marine mammal observations, losing sight of it occasionally as it fell in the trough. As we got closer, it still didn’t have the common shape or color of buoys used by the commercial fishing industry in our part of the Pacific. Its oblong shape and open handles at either end wasn’t a familiar sight even for the experienced ship’s crew of the Northwest Explorer. Curiosity piqued, the captain nudged the ship alongside the buoy so the deck crew could deftly haul it aboard. There were no obvious markings to identify its origins. Neither was there much marine growth attached to it so we surmised it hadn’t been afloat for very long. A quick Google search revealed that identical buoys have landed on shore as far south as Oregon and as far north (and west) as Kodiak. While we hope our encounters with tsunami debris will be few, we also hope that any discoveries will assist in looking at the broader dynamics of our marine world.