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Severed Foot Beach: Grisly Sea Debris

Updated on September 10, 2016
One of the decomposed feet that washed ashore
One of the decomposed feet that washed ashore

Why are the severed feet drifting ashore on these beaches?

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Everyone has heard the old adage of putting one’s best foot forward; or, of putting one foot in front of the other. But, does anyone see an advantage in having his or her foot severed, then set adrift like some macabre message in a bottle? Yet frighteningly, that is exactly what has been occurring since August 20th, 2007 in the Salish Sea.

Beaches in British Columbia, Canada, along with beaches in the state of Washington in the United States (all of which frame an extended stretch of the Salish Sea) have been the final destination for 16 different severed feet (12 found on the British Columbia side and 4 across the US border). All of the specimens found were still housed in its shoe. Of these 16 unexpected and unusual arrivals on the shore, five have been determined to have originally been attached to men, one to a woman, with three from which gender of the original owner was inconclusive. Additionally, only 2 of the 16 feet discovered have been left feet, and both of these were matched with their right-sided counterpart—which had washed ashore, as well.

This very existence of this disturbing phenomenon begs the question: what happened to the owners of these dismembered feet? Secondarily, one wonders: what in the world is happening out in the Salish Sea that is causing such unsettling and specific injury repeatedly? While law enforcement officials, and private investigators alike, have wrestled with these issues; individuals with questionable senses of humor have complicated the investigation, by planting several “hoax” feet in the areas where genuine specimens have been found.

The fact that not only have the corpses from which the feet came not washed ashore; but additional body parts have not even surfaced (so to speak), is puzzling. This aspect of the mystery has led to popular theories surfacing:

It is believed that simple laws of nature are at work. It is suggested that the ankle joint is a comparatively weak connection, as human joint structures go. The thought is the disassociated feet have simply been the first bodily pieces detached by decomposition. These were drowning victims, along with people lost at sea, whose feet were the first part of the body to disconnect posthumously. Critics of this theory point out that studies have shown that the human body remains intact in water, even in saltwater, for 30 years. This faction concludes that the possibility of the entire corpse not being found at sea, or not washing ashore in such a relatively narrow body of water, within such a considerable time frame, is preposterous.

Further, cynics have proposed an amendment to the theory posted above. This group believes that foul play is involved. The implication is that the Salish Sea has become the disposal location of choice for organized crime elements in the surrounding area for decades. While there has been no evidence of intentional removal of the feet by “tools” of any kind, an equally ghoulish suggestion has been put forward. Perhaps, the bodies were weighted down then cast into the sea. Subsequently, over the years, the original theory is realized, as the ankle joints are the first to fail on the immobilized cadaver.

Alternatively, two of the feet discovered may be easier to explain. These two were identified as having belonged to mentally ill people. Friends and family members close to each person’s situation implicate that gruesome self-mutilation would not have been out of the question for their respective loved ones.

Another theory relies on the power and consistency of ocean currents in general; and on the unpredictability of the currents in the Strait of Georgia in particular. Speculation proposes that an object as weightless as a severed foot could travel up to 1,000 miles! Meaning that a single devastating event, that occurred a significant distance from the area in question, could be responsible for all (or, at least, the majority of) the specimens that have washed ashore.

It has been put forth that the lost feet came from victims of the Asian Tsunami on December 26, 2004. This storm hit with such violence, the possibility exists that countless feet and other appendages were ripped from their owners. These separated, shoe-clad feet then made the journey to the Salish Sea. While such a distance traveled might seem far-fetched, the low weight of the foot coupled with the air trapped within the shoe covering it, make it plausible that the increased buoyancy of this particular body part allows it to float deftly along with the ocean’s considerable current.

Author Shane Lambert, a proponent of this explanation, cites the following factors as evidentiary of this school of thought. First, “Lambert cites ocean currents and their ultimate northward tendencies up the Pacific Ocean from part of the region that was hit by the 2004 Tsunami.” Secondly, and admittedly more circumstantially, the vast majority of the shoes encasing the feet were manufactured prior to 2004. While a natural explanation, such as this, is often the answer; another explanation combines this natural element with a powerful motive as to why the victim of the dismemberment might have put themselves in such a scenario to begin with.

“’All of the ones who’ve been identified so far, there’s no mystery,’ Gail Anderson, a criminologist at British Columbia’s Simon Fraser University, told the Daily Beast in 2011. ‘These people were very depressed, unhappy about life, and were last seen heading toward the water. People jump off bridges. They deliberately wish to disappear.’”

Proponents of this position observe that the nearby city of Vancouver does contain an unusual number of bridges.

While none of the aforementioned theories represents an open-and-shut case, to this point, each at least addresses the limited facts as they are known. The fact finding process has been hindered by distasteful and pointless practical jokes and hoaxes.

“Another ‘human’ foot, discovered on June 18, 2008, on Tyee Spit near Campbell River on Vancouver Island, was a hoax. The hoax was a ‘skeletonized animal paw’ which was put in a sock and shoe and then stuffed with dried seaweed.” After the eleventh real human foot was found in 2011, subsequent hoaxes have generally consisted of raw meat placed inside running shoes that have been found on beaches in British Columbia. Chicken bones have also been utilized as human foot stand-ins by self-amused pranksters.

While this spate of alarming discoveries sounds unheard of, it does have something of a comparable precedent, within the same geographic area! On July 30th, 1914, recent arrivals from Kimsquit reported that they had discovered a high boot which still contained a human leg. The grisly discovery was made on a beach near the Salmon River. It was thought, at the time, that the limb belonged to a man who had drowned in the river during the prior year. Additionally, a severed leg was discovered waterside in Vancouver in 1887, but details of this discovery have faded with time.

The most puzzling aspect of this entire mystery, and one that makes a conspiratorial explanation seem more plausible, is that this ghastly phenomenon seems to be geographically contained. Countless numbers of people drown, or are lost at sea each year. If the human foot is so prone to taking its leave of its human host, and is so uniquely buoyant, why aren’t detached human feet consistently washing ashore across the planet?

Perhaps there are generations of organized crime family members from western Canada who have recognized the value of using the waters of the Salish Sea as a cemetery.

Image of the shoes encasing the feet
Image of the shoes encasing the feet
Beach where a hiker made a gruesome find
Beach where a hiker made a gruesome find


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    • wildbluefrontier profile image

      Nathan M 16 months ago from Tucson

      Interesting hub. Quite a bit of new information to me, such as that they found who some of the washed up feet belonged to. Still a fascinating mystery.