A transponder that spent more than three years floating in the Pacific Ocean before washing up on Vancouver Island has become the subject of a wide-ranging scavenger hunt after mysteriously winding up in Campbell River last week.
The transponder, part of a group of 12 dropped in the ocean near Fukushima, Japan in January of 2012, was meant to give oceanographic researchers information on the travel pattern and duration of debris washed out to sea in the tsunami that struck near Fukushima in March, 2011.
After reaching the northwest coast of Vancouver Island earlier this month, the unit identified as T-8 took a sudden detour to Campbell River, where it continues to send a location signal every 60-90 seconds from a region near Park Drive and Ebert Road, on the north side of Campbell River.
Through satellite tracking, researchers at Japan’s Tottori University for Environmental Studies have narrowed the search to an area within 250 metres around that location.
“We are sensitive to the privacy of the individual who recovered T-8,” said Dr. Samuel Chan, a researcher with the University of Oregon. “We just want him or her to know that we really appreciate their efforts in helping us understand the science of predicting where marine debris might travel and helping us understand how organisms from Asia, some of which could become invasive in North America, might survive attached to marine debris in the open ocean.”
Chan believes the person who picked up the transponder may have returned it from a trip to the Brooks Peninsula region and forgot about it. The device is marked in English, with contact information including phone numbers and email for researchers in Japan.
A variety of interested parties in B.C. have tried to sleuth out the transponder’s location and just how it might have traveled from Brooks Peninsula to Campbell River. While on the west coast, the transponder’s signal zigged and zagged mysteriously from Lawn Point to Quatsino Sound to Brooks Peninsula before crossing the island to Campbell River.
“My first thought was helicopter,” Doug Bifford, a lands specialist with the provincial government, told Chan in an email Thursday, when local officials were first contacted. “Helicopter logging is very common out in the Lawn Point area. This would explain the movements of the transponder along the coast and back and forth from over the water to over land.”
Researchers briefly thought they had a lead early this week when they learned that Terry Eissfeldt, wife of West Coast Helicopters co-owner Terrance Eissfeldt, had photographed a cylindrical object with markings near Brooks Peninsula last week.
“I’m pretty sure the thing I saw was not theirs,” said Terry Eissfeldt. “What I saw were markings that said hazardous material, and to call the military or police. We didn’t pick it up or take it; we left it on the beach.”
The object turned out to be a spent locator flare of the type used by 19 Wing search-and-rescue crews out of CFB Comox.
CTV news reporter Gord Kurbis literally went door-to-door in the Park Drive area trying to locate T-8, and the search has been joined by Living Oceans Society, Oceans Network Canada and a number of communications specialists who hope to refine the transponder’s signal to pinpoint its location.
Of 15 transponders placed in the water to provide researchers information following the 2011 tsunami, T-8 is the first to have made landfall while still continuously pinging information.
Three transponders were dispatched shortly after the tsunami, in 2011.
“Thus, T-8 is the first to have a complete history,” Chan said.
“We really appreciate the interest and assistance from the Campbell River community in being part of this science discovery process in locating T-8.”