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How to explain the mystery of human feet found in the Salish Sea

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For the past fifteen years, human feet often still in their shoes have been found washed on the beaches of the Pacific Northwest, in the United States and in Canada. The origins of these macabre discoveries seem to be linked to advancements in athletic shoe technology.

It all started on August 7, 2007. At the time, a twelve-year-old girl visiting Jedediah Island with her father made a macabre discovery on the beach: a human foot still in her sock, all slipped into her. Adidas branded black and white sports shoe. A few days later, on August 26, a couple made a similar discovery on Gabriola Island, British Columbia (Canada). Then again, it’s a human foot still slipped into his Reebok-branded athletic shoe.

Since then, discoveries have followed one another, sometimes on the Valdes, Kirkland or Westham Islands, in Canada, sometimes along Washington State, in the United States, a few kilometers below. Since 2007, around fifteen human feet have been found in this way., most often in sports shoes. How to explain these events?

Victims of tsunamis, air crashes or a serial killer?

Many theories have been put forward in recent years. Some have referred to an air or maritime disaster, including the crash of a plane on Quadra Island in 2005, the four occupants of which had not been found. Very quickly, the track was however ruled out. Others have suggested that these human remains may have come from victims of the 2004 tsunami in the Indian Ocean. Again, this explanation does not hold for long. And for good reason, it turns out that some people identified by their DNA are local victims. Finally, some have also mentioned the trail of a serial killer. However, until now, no criminal origin has been proven.

Of the fourteen feet that have come up along the coast over the years, the coroner Barb McLintocken identified some ten as belonging to seven people. The other feet, two of which could belong to the same person, were unfortunately too degraded to allow identification. Still, according to her, the causes of these deaths are either suicides or accidents. For their part, forensic anthropologists working with the coroner have isolated no signs of trauma.

Why that the feet?

When a body ends up at sea, it sinks to the bottom of the ocean before being attacked by scavengers. Most are quite lazy and will prefer to tackle the softer parts of the body. And in humans, soft tissue includes the ankles, which are mostly made up of soft tissue and ligaments. However, if you nibble on an ankle, the foot will eventually come loose before major decomposition sets in.

Location of the finds of human feet between August 2007 and May 2019. Credits: Dennis Bratland

More and more light shoes

As to why the phenomenon did not really occur until 2007, Barb McLintock evokes theevolution of the sports footwear industry. In recent decades, sneakers have indeed been made with increasingly lightweight materials. In addition, some pairs also offer air pockets inside the soles. As a result, sports shoes tend to float more.

In other words, other feet and their shoes have most certainly become detached from their bodies in the years preceding the first discovery. But back then, they were just sinking to the bottom of the ocean.



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