The Baffling Case of The Salish Sea Feet Explained

Jonny Llama
  Published on March 3, 2022   

Since August 20th, 2007, at least 21 tennis shoes containing human feet have washed up on the shores of the Salish Sea in Washington State. For years detectives attempted to find out whose feet these belong, and why they keep washing up around the Puget Sound. This post attempts to answer those questions.

Washed Up

One of the many feet that washed ashore from the Salish Sea.

The first shoe of the many feet that washed ashore from the Salish Sea.


The first human foot was discovered by a 12-year-old girl on Jedidiah Island on August 20th, 2007. It still encased the foot inside the black-and-white, Adidas, 12-inch, and male running shoe. The caretaker of Jedidiah Island remarked, "there were five different shoes on the beach and for some reason she picked up that one, untied the laces, turned the sock inside out and around the foot."

"Both feet were decomposing, but still had flesh on them."

6 days later, a couple hiking on nearby Gabriola Island discovered a second shoe also containing a human foot. This was a male, 12-inch, Reebok shoe that is believed to have been dragged ashore by animals.

One of the many feet that washed ashore from the Salish Sea.

One of the many feet that washed ashore from the Salish Sea.


Coroner Rose Stanton said about both feet found, "Both feet were decomposing, but still had flesh on them."

Suspicions

Cpl. Garry Cox, who polices the neighboring islands, said that these finds were "quite suspicious" and spotting one foot is "like a million to one odds, but to find two is crazy."

The initial beliefs were that both feet belonged to accident victims or missing boaters. It was only when the press covered the case that theories of foul play entered the picture. Rumors began spreading that local morgue employees were stealing feet as a joke, or even that local drug gangs were trying to send a message to each other.

The true identity of the feet turned out to be less nefarious.

Jumpers

All of the feet identified so far have been either accidental deaths or suicides

All of the feet identified so far have been either accidental deaths or suicides.


The 3rd and 4th foot belonged to the same person, a teenager named Talib, who committed suicide on New Year's Day 2004. Talib's family believed he was going to the local temple to worship, but he drove his car to the Alex Fraser Bridge, where he jumped to his death.

Talib was suffering from depression and took his own life. The National Post reported, "Talib's fall takes three seconds. Striking icy water at more than 117 kilometers an hour, he might as well be hitting concrete."

Unknown to searchers, Talib's body remained submerged for four years before his feet floated ashore.

Talib's story is like many of the others that had their shoes wash ashore.

Matching Feet

Identification of these washed up feet and shoes is harder than one may initially believe. DNA is not a workable option, so detectives have to compare attributes of the shoe (male or female and size) to missing persons reports. They also used coastal currents in hopes of pinpoint a starting point for the bodies.

They have created an entire database for unidentified remains around this area of Washington.

Map of where the majority of the Salish Sea Feet were found.

Map of where most of the Salish Sea Feet were found.


Question: Whose feet are these?

Answer: The B.C. Coroners Service claims that all the feet ID'd so far have been accidents or suicides.

Why The Shoes Float?

Notice the plastic air bladders that appear in Nike's later models. Air is more buoyant than foam which means these shoes can easily float.

Notice the plastic air bladders that appear in Nike's later models. Air is more buoyant than foam, which means these shoes can easily float.


Athletic footwear companies such as Nike and Reebok have been on a "never-ending quest" to create the lightest, fastest, and strongest shoe possible. Designed for Olympic athletes, these new shoes can actually shave off seconds from a runner's time.

One of Nike's latest models had such an unfair advantage that the Tokyo Olympics banned the shoe.

Question: Why have these shoes been floating to surface since 2007?

Answer: The fierce competition between athletic shoe companies to build higher performance sneakers has caused the designs to be lighter and much more buoyant than past shoes.

A local named Mike John and his dog spotted one of these as they walked on the southern coast of Vancouver Island.

What he saw was a fibula and tibia attached to a left foot, all of it encased in a white sock and black Velcro shoe. “By the looks of it, the foot was totally intact. The ankle bone still worked and the bones were attached at the base of the knee,” Johns told CTV News.

The 13th foot found still had the tibia and fibula fully attached and the ankle was still in working order.

The 13th foot found still had the tibia and fibula fully attached and the ankle was still in working order.


Why The Salish Sea?

This question was answered by Parker MacCready, a professor of oceanography at the University of Washington in Seattle. MacCready built a simulation called LiveOcean, used to simulate the traveling paths of oil spills.

Authorities asked Parker to run LiveOcean to map the trajectory of the washed up feet from the Salish Sea. His simulation concluded that the winds around this area are "westerlies" and bring objects towards the shore instead of pushing them out into the ocean.

The layout around the Salish Sea acts like a trap for washed up shoes... and feet.

The layout around the Salish Sea acts like a trap for washed up shoes... and feet.


With these winds combined with the topographical layout of the Salish Sea, it is quite easy to see why the feet end up where they do.

[arve url="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uqjVRtlE_1E&feature=youtu.be" /]

 

Sources

Second human foot discovered on island in Strait of Georgia (Times Colonist 31 August 2007)
Discovery of unattached human feet baffles B.C. police (CBC News)
Science AFoot (National Post 02 Sept 2011)
Foot on Jetty Island belonged to missing Everett man (Herald Net)
Unidentified human remains interactive viewer
Latest floating ‘foot’ turns out to be a hoax (CNN 19 June 2008)
Why do human feet keep washing ashore in British Columbia? (The Guardian)
Your shoes are made of plastic. Here’s why. (National Geographic)
Technological doping: The science of why Nike Alphaflys were banned from the Tokyo Olympics (Science Focus)
How science solved the mystery of feet washing ashore in the Pacific Northwest (National Geographic)
Carla Valentine: A mortician’s guide to fatbergs and fatty wax (Northbank Speakers)
Human foot found on Canada shoreline - the 13th such discovery in a decade (The Guardian 13 Dec 2017)
Doctor explains why 21 human feet in sneakers washed on shore (TheHill.com)
Human foot in shoe found on Vancouver Island beach (CTV News)
LiveOcean simulation
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2 comments on “The Baffling Case of The Salish Sea Feet Explained”

  1. And there I was, thinking they were from the lost city of Atlantis. I would love a t-shirt or watter bottle or something with Jen's "I don't like that at all." Would buy that in a heartbeat.

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