A Jar’s Journey: Wrack Line Mystery

Closed tight, this empty glass jar floated as far as it could, washing ashore when it ran out of fetch on a cobble covered Oregon strand. It arrived in a beach cast of Velella velella, real-life professional drifters, so much so we call them by-the wind-sailors.

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The jar probably made landfall a few days before I found it. I think so because the accompanying sailors were bleached, but not completely, so it couldn’t have been long. Bobbing among the cobbles during even a few high tide cycles, it’s a wonder it hadn’t smashed in the swash.

The words HENGXINGFOOD on the lid can be traced to a Chinese food supplier specializing in eel products. Assuming the original contents were eel, I wonder if a forensic microbiologist could estimate the time adrift from the pink and orange growth inside. While we wait for that estimate, is it reasonable to ask if the jar floated on its own from China’s shores to the coast of Oregon? Sure it is. There’s a route from the East China Sea, north through the Sea of Japan, and on to Oregon via the North Pacific. We see Japanese material in the wrack all the time, so it’s possible. Another possibility is that part of our jar’s journey took place aboard a fishing boat. Once empty, was it washed or tossed overboard? Confounding any hypothesis, I learned that Jiangxi Hengxing Food Co., Ltd. distributes domestically in China, and internationally. Could the jar, full of eel product, have arrived commercially in North America before making its way to sea? This is a wrack line mystery I’m unlikely to solve.

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The lid, as I found it, with fresh scratches and a few small pelagic barnacles

Drop me a line if you can estimate how long a metal lid like this one could survive the corrosive effects of sun and seawater, if you are a forensic microbiologist, can read Chinese characters, or if you have other ideas that might help fill in the missing pieces of this oceanic drifter’s story.

If you are curious about other items I noticed on the shore the same day I found this jar, you can see them all at Wrack Line 2018. Just scroll down to April 19.

To browse floats, bottles, and marine life washed ashore over the years, check out any of my Wrack Line pages.

Unlikely