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Message in a bottle

30/08/2012

A message in a bottle has set a world record for the longest time a drift bottle has spent at sea – and was discovered by the same fishing boat that found the previous record holder.

On April 12 Andrew Leaper, skipper of the Shetland fishing boat Copious, made the unexpected discovery when hauling in his nets. The find has now been confirmed by Guinness World Records and surpasses the previous record by more than five years. That was also for a Scottish drift bottle, recovered in 2006 – incredibly, by the same Lerwick vessel.

Drift bottle 646B was released on June 10, 1914, by Captain C H Brown of the Glasgow School of Navigation, as part of a batch of 1,890 scientific research bottles specially designed to sink downwards and float close to the seabed. By tracking the location of returned bottles it was possible for the under-currents of the seas around Scotland to be mapped out for the first time.

The water-tight glass bottles contained a postcard asking the finder to record the date and location of the discovery and return it to the ‘Director of the Fishery Board for Scotland’ – with a reward of six old pence available. Of the batch released in 1914, 315 bottles have been found. The original log of Captain Brown – now held by Marine Scotland Science in Aberdeen – is updated each time a discovery is made.

Fisherman Andrew Leaper said:

"It was an amazing coincidence that the same Shetland fishing boat that found the previous record-breaking bottle six years ago also found this one. It’s like winning the lottery twice – this is a very popular fishing ground, with half the North Sea fleet fishing here.

"As we hauled in the nets I spotted the bottle neck sticking out and I quickly grabbed it before it fell back in the sea. I am immensely proud to be the finder of the world record message in a bottle. It was very exciting to find the bottle and I couldn’t wait to open it."

Scottish Environment Secretary Richard Lochhead said:

"Scotland has a long and proud tradition in marine science, stretching from these pioneers of ocean research in the 19th and early 20th century, to the cutting edge marine studies that take place in our labs today.

"The story of scientific drift bottles is a fascinating one and harks back to an area when we were only beginning to understand the complexities of the seas. It’s amazing that nearly 98 years on bottles are still being returned to the Marine Laboratory – and in such fantastic condition. With many bottles still unreturned there is always the chance in the coming years that a Scottish drift bottle will once again break the record."

Dr Bill Turrell, Head of Marine Ecosystems with Marine Scotland Science, said:

"Drift bottles gave oceanographers at the start of the last century important information that allowed them to create pictures of the patterns of water circulation in the seas around Scotland. These images were used to underpin further research – such as determining the drift of herring larvae from spawning grounds, which helped scientists understand the life cycle of this key species.

"The conclusions of these pioneering oceanographers were right in many respects – for example, they correctly deduced the clockwise flow of water around our coasts. However, it took the development of electronic instruments in the 1960s before the true patterns of current flows, and more importantly what causes them, were unlocked."

A spokesperson for Guinness World Records added:

"We are pleased to hear that the same vessel helped to break the Guinness World Records for ‘Oldest message in a bottle’ twice. This is a fascinating record, both historically and scientifically. We hope that future expeditions will retrieve more of these treasured messages from the sea."

In the 1890’s drift bottles also enabled an earlier Scottish scientist, Dr T Wemyss Fulton, to chart the surface currents of the North Sea for the first time, by releasing thousands of floating bottles and wooden slips.

In the 1960’s new technology, such as moored current meters and satellite-tracked devices, came into use. The principal of drift bottles is still used today, however the system no longer depends on fishermen finding and returning the drifters.