There’s nothing quite like a sunny day on the beach.
The warm sun on your skin, breeze in your hair and a shoe containing human remains next to you in the sand.
Yes, you read that right. According to the Times Colonist, on July 27, a shoe with human body parts was discovered on Gonzales Beach by a man who lives in the area. He reported his findings to the British Columbia Coroners Service. It is currently under investigation.
As morbid as it sounds, feet washing up on shores may be more common than one might think.
The most recent detached foot discovery is one of many found in recent years. A Wikipedia page made solely for human feet found in the Salish Sea said that since 2007, around 20 human foot remains have been discovered along the coastline of Washington state and British Columbia, Canada.
Is it a result of foul play?
There are many theories on what the reason could be behind the number of decomposing feet being found along the northwest coastline. Over the years, some have suspected natural disasters such as tsunamis or plane and boat crashes that are expected to have casualties.
Others have even thought it could be the work of a serial killer in the area or a victim of organized crime violence.
Officials from both Canada and the U.S. have canceled out foul play throughout the years.
Kathy Taylor, a former forensic anthropologist at the King County Medical Examiner’s Office, told Vox in 2017 that it is a result of living in a densely populated area. As of 2021, around 8.76 million people live in cities surrounding the Salish Sea.
Our footwear plays a vital role
Shoes, especially sneakers, are designed with much more buoyancy than they used to be, causing them to float rather than sink.
Dr. Karan Rajan, a surgeon for the United Kingdom National Health Service in England, posted to social media his explanation of what is causing decomposed feet to show up on the shoreline.
“It is actually the footwear industry,” Rajan said. “When a corpse falls to the ocean floor, it’s quickly set upon by scavengers. These scavengers are lazy feeders and prefer to eat the softer parts of our bodies first. Some of the softest parts of us are around the ankle.”
Rajan said that because of this, scavengers will eat what they can get, causing the foot to stay inside the shoe when detached from the rest of the body and float to the surface.
“Sneakers made in the last decade often have gas-filled pockets in their soles (that) makes them particularly unsinkable,” per Insider.
Why, specifically, the Salish Sea?
If shoes are making detached floating feet more common, why are decomposed feet not showing up everywhere?
Parker MacCready, a professor of oceanography at the University of Washington in Seattle, told National Geographic it has to do with four realistic causes: tides, rivers, winds and ocean conditions.
Through different studies, the research found that the Salish Sea has the ideal properties to ensnare feet in its waves.
“First, it’s an unusually large and complex body of inland water, which acts as a trap. ... Second, the prevailing winds are westerlies, so they bring stuff in from the ocean rather than pushing it out to sea,” MacCready explained to National Geographic.
And finally, what MacCready’s model does not explain, but he points out, “You see a lot of folks wearing sneakers at the beach in the Pacific Northwest, where many choose to hike among the slippery rocks. Taken together, all these factors — plus the cold deep waters and healthy scavenger populations — make the Salish the ideal foot magnet.”