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Last Updated: Saturday, 12 July, 2003, 00:03 GMT 01:03 UK
Ducks' odyssey nears end

By Jane Standley
BBC correspondent in New York

A consignment of thousands of rubber ducks is expected to wash up any day on the coast of New England - after more than a decade at sea.

Rubber ducks
Thousands of rubber ducks floated across three oceans over 11 years
The ducks - along with other bathtub toys like beavers, turtles and frogs - fell overboard from a container ship en route from China to Seattle during a storm in 1992.

During the ducks' long voyage through three oceans, scientists have tracked their progress - and say it has taught them valuable lessons about surface currents.

"The ducks went around the North Pacific in three years - all the way from the spill site to Alaska, over to Japan and back to North America," said Curtis Ebbesmeyer, a retired oceanographer based in Seattle.

"This was twice as fast as the water at the surface - so I began to call them hyper-ducks."

The floating ducks are expected to wash up battered and bleached by their journey through the waters of the Arctic, the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans.

After falling overboard near the 45th parallel 11 years ago, the ducks floated along the Alaskan coast, reaching the Bering Strait in 1995.

It is thought they were trapped by slow moving ice for several years - it took them until 2000 to reach the Atlantic ocean.

A year later, they were tracked in the area of the north Atlantic where the Titanic sank.

During their voyage, some of the ducks broke away - and headed for Europe - others have surfaced in Hawaii.

The ducks were among 350 containers which rolled off a ship in high seas - environmentalists are now trying to use their amazing journey to highlight the problem of overboard cargo.

As many as 10,000 containers fall off ships every year, causing hazards for shipping and for marine life.

Ebbesmeyer recently tracked the movement of 34,000 ice hockey gloves lost at sea.

He regularly gets reports on Nike trainers washing up on coasts. He has even worked out the path taken across the world's waters by a dead body in a survival suit.

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