What the Garfield telephones and mysterious metal spheres washing up on beaches reveal about our oceans

The mysterious metal sphere that washed up on a Japanese beach has been removed. But this is far from the only odd object that's turned up on beaches. It doesn't look entirely dissimilar to the weird ball found on a London beach in 2019 that turned out to be an oversized model of a Christmas tree ornament. And of course, there are the "Friendly Floatees," the tens of thousands of plastic ducks, frogs, and other figures that fell off a ship in 1992. The BBC News surveys the strange objects that wash up on beaches and what they can tell scientists about ocean currents:

  • An unusual 24m-long (84ft) wood and metal object in Florida in 2022 that people speculated could be a barrier, old pier or even row of spectator seats from a Nascar race. Archaeologists later found it was a shipwreck.
  • For 35 years, residents of a coast in Brittany were puzzled why landline telephones based on the cartoon cat Garfield were washing up. The culprit – a lost shipping container – was only recently located. 
  • A decade ago, blocks of rubbery material engraved with the word Tjipeter appeared all over Europe. They may have come from a rubber plantation in Indonesia. Another rubbery mystery washed ashore last year when a curious layered block found at Falmouth, UK, which may have been a 100-year-old bale of rubber sheets. Another had been found in Shetland, Scotland in 2020.
  • A large foam object in South Carolina in 2018 that some outlets labelled as "space junk", but a more sober analysis from local authorities later suggested was a buoy[…]

    A decade ago, oceanographers used this data to build this interactive map, which reveals just how far floating debris can travel. Click on a point in the ocean, and the map will tell you where an item will end up after days, weeks and months. For example, an item dropped off the coast of Japan could reach the coast of California after about three years.