Researchers poring over old videos of seabirds in Oregon discovered footage of a Japanese dock that split from its moorings during the 2011 tsunami and washed up in the United States more than a year later.
Cheryl Horton, a graduate student in fisheries and wildlife at Oregon State University (OSU), recently spotted the concrete dock floating in the background of a video taken off Agate Beach near Newport, Ore., days before the drifter came ashore.
"We've been behind analyzing our footage and had gone through video of common murre colonies at Cape Meares in the north and Coquille Point in the south," Horton said in a statement. "But we got so busy that we didn't get around to looking at the central coast data until this June. Then it was, 'whoa – what is that?'" [Images: Japanese Dock Washes Ashore in Oregon]
The Pacific-crossing pier washed up at Agate Beach on June 5, 2012, and became somewhat of a spectacle, drawing tourists for the two months it stayed stubbornly fixed on the sand. It had been cut loose from the city of Misawa during the devastating Tohoku earthquake and tsunami and measured 66 feet (20 meters) long. The video found by Horton is the only known video of the dock during its long journey, according to OSU.
Estimates from the Japanese government had suggested that the tsunami churned up 5 million tons of debris. About 70 percent is believed to have sunk to the seafloor, with the rest floating across the ocean. More than two years on, researchers are still finding traces of the tsunami, which killed more than 15,000 people.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has confirmed more than two dozen pieces of tsunami debris found in the Pacific Islands and along the West Coast, including several small boats, a seafood storage bin found floating in Hawaii, a soccer ball that washed up in Alaska, and another concrete dock that was only recently removed from a beach in Washington State.
The dock that came ashore in Oregon was remarkable for the surprising raft of life it brought with it. During its 15-month voyage, it had picked up an estimated 100 tons of marine organisms, including exotic mussels, barnacles, small shore crabs, invasive seaweed and algae. As many of these species were not native to Oregon's shore, they posed a potential threat to the state's ecosystem and officials had organized volunteers to scrape the dock clean. The dock ultimately was removed from Agate Beach in early August 2012, but part of it is on display at OSU's Hatfield Marine Science Center in Newport.