Why Do Severed Feet Keep Floating Ashore in the Pacific Northwest?
What the Devil washed ashore man tries to answer.
At first thought, it has to be the strangest phenomenon in the history of modern forensic evidence. For some, it’s already become an urban legend, something to smirk at, shake your head, then dismiss and move on. For others, it’s altogether more ominous, conjuring up thoughts of serial killers and predators of the deep — things that nightmares are made of.
Over the last fifteen years, human remains have been washing ashore in the Pacific Northwest and elsewhere in the form of severed feet inside surprisingly well-preserved shoes.
What can’t be denied are the verified number of times this has become a matter of police record. Enough to leave more than a few investigators and private citizens scratching their heads and staring across the water, wondering to themselves what the hell happened out there.
Since 2007 twenty-one detached feet have washed ashore from the Salish Sea on the coast of British Columbia and Washington state. One grisly boot with its flesh and bone contents was found on the south end of Jetty Island along the coast of Everett, Washington, in 2019. Another was discovered on the shore of Lake Michigan in the state of Michigan in 2008. Yet another in Alaska in 2017.
For the record, there have been male and female remains. Right feet and left feet. Some of them found in pairs. All encased, almost mockingly, in common footwear people wear every day — hiking boots, sneakers, and running shoes. Not once were any other body parts or clothes found at the scene.
It’s easy to see how a lurid imagination could run wild with this story.
But alas, the answer to the mystery of the floating feet isn’t so melodramatic. The answer lies in nature’s food chain. And in the shoes.
When inanimate human flesh floats in the ocean it quickly falls prey to any number of scavengers great and small who gladly partake of the nutrition. So much so that every bone, ligament, and muscle left to the sea will simply disappear. However, there is one small catch.
“These scavengers are lazy feeders,” said Karan Raj, a surgeon with the National Health Service (NHS) in the United Kingdom.1 “They prefer to tackle the softer parts of our body than the tough grisly bits. Some of the softest parts of us are the soft tissues and ligaments around our ankles.”
But when it comes to taking on the feet inside hard and sturdy shoes, those same scavengers aren’t so determined.
“The reason it’s happened more since 2007,” Doctor Raj continued, “is due to the change in sneaker design. Over the last few decades, shoes have become more buoyant, as a result, we could be seeing more severed feet wash up on our shores.”
The buoyant feet remain protected from nibblers and carnivores in their China-manufactured shells and they don’t all sink to the bottom. Mystery solved.
In the Bible, the book of Revelation says that the sea will one day give up its dead and offer eternal peace. Until that mystical day comes, however, there will remain sad and unsolved cold cases involving the deep. In the matter of the severed feet, some of the remains have been linked to official missing person cases, but the majority have not.
How did these poor souls end up dead in the first place? Who, or what, caused their demise? And why has so much of this washed ashore specifically in the Pacific Northwest?
Hard questions worth asking, but when it comes to answers the sea isn’t willing to give up all its secrets just yet.