The message was a love note of sorts and it travelled more than a century. It was from George Parker Bidder who devoted his life to the study of the ocean in general and the hydraulics of sponges in particular. He was also fascinated by marine geology and coastal erosion.
As President of the U.K. Marine Biological Association (MBA) in Plymouth, he launched 1,020 bottles into the North Sea between 1904 and 1906. Each bottle contained one of Bidder’s “love notes.” His purpose was to advance knowledge of ocean currents in relation to the migration of plaice (a type of fish) and other bottom feeders.
The “bottom bottles” as he referred to them in his scientific records, were designed to be carried on currents approximately two feet above the ocean floor. Most of Bidder’s bottles were pulled up in fisherman’s nets within months or years of the experiment. The ones that were not returned were presumed lost forever.
Bidder was able to prove for the first time that the deeper currents of the North Sea move east to west and that plaice and other bottom feeders generally move against those currents.
According to Guy Baker, current Communications Director of the MBA, their research on currents continues to build on Bidder’s findings even today, but typically with modern technology such as electronic tags.
Researchers now know, for example, that plaice, along with several other fish in the North Sea are considered overfished and “outside safe biological limits” by the International Council For The Exploration of the Sea (ICES). Although plaice can live up to 40 years, it’s rare to see one over six. They are growing less quickly and their numbers are at historical lows.
In April of 2015, Bidder’s bottom bottle was found on a North Sea beach on the German island of Amrum, by Marianne Winkler, a retired postal worker.
Visible through the bottle was a note that said, “BREAK.” When her husband, Horst Winkler, could not get the cork out of the bottle, they photographed it and did as the note requested.
Inside, they found a postcard with instructions in German, English and Dutch, further requesting that the person who found the bottle return it to the MBA. A British schilling (now out of use) was promised in return.
Although the world breathlessly awaits the final word from the Guiness Book of World Records, this bottle could very well break the standing official world record.
According to New York Magazine, Bidder was hardly the first person to use the old message in a bottle trick. The first recorded messages were sent by Theophrastus in 310 B.C. to prove that the Mediterranean Sea is formed by the inflow of the Atlantic.
Even Christopher Columbus used a message in a cask to get word of his discoveries to the Queen of Castille in case he did not survive his journey. The British Navy in the 16th century used bottled messages to deliver sensitive information. Queen Elizabeth established an official “Uncorker of Ocean Bottles,” to deal with these communications.
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