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Occasional Mystery of Red Bulbs Found on Oregon Coast

Published 12/19/21 at 5:42 AM PST
By Oregon Coast Beach Connection staff

Occasional Mystery of Red Bulbs Found on Oregon Coast

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(Oregon Coast) – You may have spotted one or two in the last ten years, but chances are you haven't. They are somewhat rare. (Photo above: Susan Burr)

Periodically, red bulbs from Asian boats wash up along the Oregon coast, and they leave people scratching their heads. They're rather large red bulbs, and clearly sturdy and hardy enough to make the trek from eastern shores to the Oregon coast or even Washington coast.

It's like a lot of stuff from out there in the ocean: some of it simply washes up here, no matter where it's originally from. Some objects get sucked into ocean currents after being in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch (a massive vortex of human-made debris that is in between Asia and North America), and those currents bring them here. Sometimes, they simply make a meandering trek along the Pacific Ocean's waves and get dropped onto theses shores, coming from the west, south or north.

Even to this day, the occasional bit of tsunami debris arrives on Oregon coast sands: from the massive quake in Fukushima in 2011.

Back in 2014, stuff from that horrific disaster in Japan was still arriving, although far less frequently than its peak a year or so before. It was that year that the red bulbs subject came up, causing a little bit of a stir. There were several incidents of these getting found then, presumably still tsunami debris.

One caught the eye of Susan Burr, back then manager of Inn at Spanish Head (she's since sadly passed away). She emailed Oregon Coast Beach Connection with these photos back then, which included some other fascinating finds.

It started the ball rolling on some research, which soon came up with interesting answers.

Burr and her husband found them in southern Tillamook County, which also included a large pallet with Asian writing on it. There were fishing floats as well, where sea life can be seen clinging to the blue ones, and at least one bottle.

Oregon Coast Beach Connection passed them onto officials at CoastWatch, the volunteer organization that keeps an eye on environmental issues on Oregon beaches, and back then Fawn Custer was in charge of things like this.

It turned out she had one on her porch, found the previous year on the beach. Custer had already done some sleuthing on the matter.

“The bulb was manufactured by Takuyo Riken Co. Ltd. in Fukuoka, Japan,” Custer said. “Takuyo produces commercial squid fishing gear, including underwater lamps, as well as other lights and electrical apparatus for oceanic studies. A number of bulbs like this one have been found on the western sides of the islands of Hawaii, Maui and Kauai, as well as on Washington¹s northern coast and on the Oregon coast.”

Back in 2014, with tsunami debris still somewhat in the news, it wasn't hard to figure out the origin.

“While some could simply be burned-out bulbs tossed overboard by fishermen, at least some also could have come from the hundreds of Japanese fishing boats destroyed and/or swept out to sea after the earthquake and resultant tsunami that struck Fukushima, Japan on March 11, 2011,” Custer said.

Tsunami debris from Japan was still appearing with decreasing frequency at times, but in late 2014 there had been a rush of it.

Custer said CoastWatch volunteers, beach rangers and park managers had contacted Custer about numerous objects appearing on beaches in the weeks leading up to this incident. Three boats, wheels from cars, plastic crates, large industrial drums and other items had found their way recently, some of them with nonnative species attached.

That was the big worry with Oregon and Washington coast officials back in 2014: some debris still had various species living on them, some of which could be considered dangerously invasive species. Some could have generally wrecked part of Oregon's near-shore ecosystem.

Luckily, that issue never truly arose. Nothing new and scary took hold off of places like Westport, Seaside, Yachats or Bandon. Yet there were plenty of reminders of the tragedy of that tsunami in Japan.

Oregon Coast Beach Connection has not received any report of red bulbs since – but that doesn't mean they stopped altogether.

Below are photos from other tsunami debris incidents in the early 2010s.

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Part of a kasagi, found in Florence - from a sacred Japanese shrine

Tsunami debris boat found in Bandon in 2013

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