How’d That Get Here? The Strangest Things to Ever Wash Up on a Beach
An unsuspecting surfer in Japan gets ready to hop in the ocean when he spots an 8-foot fiberglass Lego man washed up on the beach. Residents living on a peaceful island in the Netherlands awake one morning to find the shoreline littered with thousands of brand-new tennis sneakers. And a beachcomber in Canada, hoping to find a shark tooth or maybe a piece of driftwood, stumbles upon a Harley-Davidson motorcycle with Japanese plates tucked in a storage container straddling the shoreline.
Every year items like these wash up on beaches and coastlines all over the world. Often they’re the contents of a wayward shipping container that's slipped off a cargo ship. Other times, items are swept up in the powerful winds of a tsunami or hurricane before they get tossed into the ocean where they float for months, sometimes years, before appearing on foreign shores.
In any case, you never know what you might find scattered across the sand or hidden in a cove. Here's a look at some of the most bizarre, intriguing and tasty items to have ever washed up on beaches around the world.
Brittany, France - Garfield Phones
In the 1980s, novelty Garfield phones began mysteriously washing up on the shores of Brittany, France. For over 30 years, confused locals plucked dopey-eyed cat heads, tangled chords and waterlogged receivers off the coastline.
It wasn't until environmentalist Claire Simonin-Le Meur began investigating Brittany's Garfield phenomenon that, in March 2019, the decades-old mystery was finally solved. The phones were coming from a lost shipping container tucked into a coastal cave.
“We found this incredible cave, that was 30 metres deep and right at the end the remains of container,” Simonin-Le Meur told Euronews. “At the cave opening there was a Garfield lodged in the roof, so we knew we weren’t mistaken and this was where they were.”
That shipping container remains inaccessible today, and no one knows how many phones it still contains. So for a while, at least, there’s still a chance you could find a Garfield phone while exploring the coastline of Brittany.
Newquay, Cornwall - Tjipetir Blocks
In 2012, Tracy Williams was walking along a beach near her home in Newquay, a town on the north coast of Cornwall, England, when she stumbled upon a curious block of what appeared to be rubber. Engraved across the front was a word she'd never before seen: “Tjipetir.”
Intrigued, she took to the internet to share her find, and ended up connecting with other people from Sweden, Spain and the Netherlands who’d also found Tjipetir blocks at their local beaches.
What was going on?
Williams and UK authorities did some investigating and discovered the blocks were most likely not rubber at all, but gutta-percha — gum from a tree native to Malaysia. The material, once used to make items like golf balls, picture frames and jewelry, was produced by a rubber plantation in West Java, Indonesia named, you guessed it, Tjipetir.
There are records of the Titanic carrying these gutta-percha blocks, so it’s conceivable that, after the ship sank, they were dispursed to sea. More likely, the blocks came from the “Miyazaki Maru,” a Japanese liner known to be carrying Tjipleir blocks when it sank during WWI.
Cocoa Beach, Florida - Fragments from The Challenger
Seventy-three seconds after taking off from Cape Canaveral, Florida in 1986, The Challenger spacecraft exploded in the sky, instantly killing all seven astronauts on board.
A decade after this horrific incident occurred, two large pieces of the spacecraft's left wing were discovered on Cocoa Beach on the East Coast of Florida. Unfortunately, although the wings were a surprising find, they didn't provide officials with any new information on the cause of the explosion.
The fragments are now on display at the Kennedy Space Center, located 20 miles north of Cocoa Beach, alongside other spacecraft hardware and personal items from the astronauts.
Dee Why Beach, Australia - Lake Balls
Dee Why, famous for its spectacular New Years fireworks display, is one of Sydney, Australia’s many family-friendly beaches. And while most of the year its sands are covered in footprints and striped beach umbrellas, in 2014 locals awoke to find thousands of furry, golf-sized green balls scattered across their beloved shore.
Soon, scientists confirmed that the spongy spheres were rare “lake balls,” made of free-floating algae that’s been tossed around in rough currents.
Sydney isn't the only place with lake balls. Since 1950, the indigenous Ainu people in Hokkaido, Japan have held a yearly festival, complete with a torch procession, in honor of the balls. The Ainu call the balls marimo and believe them to be a natural treasure.
Ocean Beach, San Francisco - Tombstones
Moderate water temperatures, fierce winds and rough waves make Ocean Beach in San Francisco the perfect spot to go kite-surfing and skimboarding. But it's well-suited to another activity as well: tombstone hunting.
In 2014, gravestones with markers dating back as far as 1890 appeared on Ocean Beach after a night of strong winds caused large quantities of sand to shift.
The tombstones, it turns out, are tied to a horrifying part of San Francisco history. In the early 20th century, as the city's population boomed, authorities closed most of the Chinese, Catholic and Jewish cemeteries to make room for housing developments. Tombstones were sent to the landfill, used to create breakwaters and seawalls, or broken apart to line gutters. And some were dumped into the San Francisco Bay.
Over the last few years, the gravestones have appeared and disappeared according to the weather. But don't worry if you happen to visit Ocean Beach and stumble upon a tombstone: When the bodies that once belonged to the stones were exhumed, they were relocated to Colma, a town located 503 miles north of Ocean Beach.
Perranporth Beach, North Cornwall - Rice Cakes
In February 2017, a rowdy storm caused a small ship traveling between the United Kingdom and Ireland to lose four storage containers carrying Ikea furniture, power tools, boxes of wine — and 32 pallets of Bunalun Organics rice cakes.
Given their light weight, the cakes quickly invaded the shores of Perranporth Beach in North Cornwall, England. Luckily, Surfers Against Sewage, a marine conservation charity, arrived on the scene once the storm passed and discarded the plastic-bound packages of rice cakes.
Unfortunately, the wine never made it ashore.
Atlantic Highlands, New Jersey - Love Letters
In late October 2012, Hurricane Sandy bore down on the coasts of New York and New Jersey, uprooting houses, shredding power lines, eroding beaches, and flooding roadways and subway platforms.
A day after the storm struck, while walking along a beach in the Atlantic Highlands, a 14-year-old boy discovered a stack of letters tied together with pink ribbon. He took them home to his mom, Kathleen Mullen, who dried them out. As she began to read, she quickly realized they were love letters.
Upon further research, Mullen learned the letters were written between 1942 and 1947 by Dorothy Fallon and Lynn Farnham while Lynn was stationed at Pearl Harbor. The couple married in 1948 after WWII ended and had two children.
With the help of social media, Mullen discovered that Lynn had passed away in 1992, and that Dororthy was in poor health living in a nursing home at age 91. But she was able to return the letters to family members living in Virginia.
The romantic story, naturally, made the media and public swoon. As the Atlantic Highlands Herald put it, “Even Superstorm Sandy could not take away the love that two people shared in the 1940's.”
Gabriola Island, British Columbia - Human Feet
During a leisurely afternoon stroll, along a beach on Gabriola Island in British Columbia, Canada, a man happened upon a human foot lodged in a hiking boot. Oddly, it wasn't the first.
Between 2008 and 2018, a total of 14 human feet, in hiking boots and sneakers, had washed up on various shorelines in British Columbia, including Botanical Beach and the Salish Sea.
Despite the number of feet, the British Columbia Coroners Service continues to insist the cases are not related or an unfortunate result of foul play. Instead, police say the feet they’ve identified belong to people who either accidentally drowned or committed suicide.
When asked why the feet keep appearing, authorities noted that shoes protect limbs from the elements, allowing them to decompose at a much slower rate than the rest of the body. “We pretty well think we know what happened in every case,” a local coroner told the Canadian Press. “A lot of this is simply the quelling of the public imagination, to say, ‘No, this is unfortunate and they’re all very sad cases.’”
Hatteras Island, North Carolina - Doritos
While fishing off the shore of North Carolina, a crew of fisherman spotted an abandoned shipping container, popped it open and to their delight discovered thousands of bags of Nacho Cheese, Spicy Nacho and Cool Ranch Doritos.
Many of the Dorito bags later floated out of the container and washed up on Hatteras Island, where locals appeared in droves to haul the spicy chips off the beach by the armload. There was even a report of a local filling up an entire truckload’s worth of the tasty snacks.
The event caused such a stir that a Dorito bag was put on display at the Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum alongside the multitude of other shipwrecked items that have washed up on the island's shore.
Terschelling Island & Ameland Island, Netherlands - Bananas
In 2007, a year after thousands of bags of perfectly edible Doritos littered Hatteras Island in North Carolina, six containers fell off a cargo ship during a brutal storm, dumping bunches of unripe bananas on the beaches of Terschelling Island and Ameland Island in the Netherlands. In total, thousands of bananas landed ashore, enough for the press to call it a "banana wave."
While the residents of Terschelling Island enjoyed the unexpected treats, they weren’t surprised. Before the bananas arrived, all sorts of toys, briefcases and sweaters had arrived on their shorelines.
But the best delivery came when a cargo ship destined for Hamburg, Germany got tossed around in a wild storm and lost a shipping container packed with thousands of pairs of tennis shoes. When the sneakers finally washed up on the island's shores, residents did what any of us would do; they raced to the beach to find their size.
Graham Island, British Columbia - Harley-Davidson Motorcycle
It's not unusual for a beachcomber to find bits of sea glass and the occasional shark tooth. Finding a Harley-Davidson Night Train motorcycle is decidedly more unusual.
Yet in 2012, this is exactly what happened to a man named Peter Mark. As he strolled along an isolated beach on Graham Island in British Columbia, Canada, Mark found a Harley-Davidson with Japanese license plates sitting inside an insulated storage container. He didn't know it at the time, but the bike had been one of the many casualties of the tsunami that devastated Japan's northern coast in 2011.
The bike had been floating in the Pacific Ocean for a year before it washed up on Graham Island. Harley-Davidson was able to track down the owner, Ikuo Yokoyama, and offered to restore his bike and ship it back to Japan. However, Yokoyama refused the offer and insisted that the bike be donated to a museum to memorialize the 15,000 people who died in the 2011 tsunami.
Today, the Harley is on permanent display at the Harley-Davidson Museum in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
Navagio Beach, Greece - MV Panayiotis
Famously known beyond the borders of Greece as Shipwreck Beach, Navagio Beach is located on the eastern coast of Zakynthos island. Tucked away in a cove surrounded by stunning white cliffs and shockingly blue water, you'll find the MV Panayiotis (or MVP), a rusted-out ship that washed up on the cove's pristine beach in the mid-1980s.
A popular tourist destination, the origins of the MV Panayiotis shipwreck is shrouded in mystery. According to one tale, when authorities discovered the ship was smuggling contraband cigarettes and booze, they trapped the MVP in the cove until the engine gave out, causing the boat to wash up on the beach.
Another theory involves two Italian smugglers, contraband cargo and a greedy captain. When bad weather forced the ship into the cove, the police pounced, arresting the men. The load was seized and sold off at an auction, and the MV Panayiotis was left to rest on the beach.
Gulf of Ob, Siberia - Snowballs
In October of 2016, thousands of perfectly round snowballs appeared across an 11-mile stretch of beach on the Gulf of Ob in Siberia. According to Live Science, the snowballs ranged from the size of a tennis ball to almost 3 feet across.
Naturally occurring and extremely rare, the snowballs formed under unusual conditions. The lay of coastline, as well as the outside temperature, has to be just right for small pieces of ice to collect and become shaped into spheres by rolling wind and water.
While the snowballs that appeared on the Gulf of Ob took nearby villagers by surprise, the phenomenon is not unique to Siberia. In 2010 and again in 2015, giant snowballs were spotted in Lake Michigan and Maine, respectively.
Yuigahama Beach, Japan - Ego Leonard
Surfer Tatsuya Hirata was strolling Yuigahama beach in 2014 when he met Ego Leonard, an 8-foot tall, 100-pound fiberglass Lego man dressed in blue shorts and a red t-shirt with "No Real Than You Are" written across the front. It appeared Leonard had washed up on the beach overnight, but where he came from no one knew.
It wasn't the first time Leonard mysteriously appeared on a beach.
In 2012, he showed up on Topanga beach in California west of Los Angeles. In 2011, he was discovered on Siesta Key beach in Sarasota, Florida. Before that, he’d washed up on Brighton Beach in the UK in 2008 and Zandvoort beach in the Netherlands in 2007.
Although it's never been confirmed, Ego Leonard is believed to the brainchild of a Dutch artist whose name may or may not be Leon Keer.
Melbourne Beach, Florida - Mystery Mannequin Sailboat
According to the U.S. Coast Guard, Hurricane Irma, a Category 4 hurricane that hit southern Florida in 2017, wrecked and relocated over 2,000 boats and other large vessels. The most peculiar was a 45-foot sailboat named Cuki that washed up on Melbourne Beach on the east coast of Florida.
On September 19, a curious jogger spotted the boat on the beach and noticed what appeared to be a human head, torso and leg in the cockpit. But when the Coast Guard arrived to investigate, the body parts they found didn't belong to humans, but to a crew of creepy mannequins.
It turned out the sailboat was registered to a man in Key West serving time at a Monroe County jail. Why he stashed mannequins on his boat is unclear. In any case, as a local resident and charter pilot noted to Florida Today, “That's incredible that they survived that journey in a Category 5 hurricane.”