Professor Ed Monahan’s “Message in a Bottle” reaches Russia

(This story includes excerpts from “From Galway Bay to Kola Bay – Research bottle set adrift 40 years ago reaches Russia” published in the Irish Examiner, 10/25/2021)

A message in a bottle cast into the ocean off Ireland’s West coast roughly 40 years ago has turned up in Murmansk, Russia last week – some 4,000km away. The bottle was discovered at Kola Bay, an estuary north of the port city of Murmansk, the biggest city in the Russian Oblast of the same name. Contained within the bottle was a small yellow postcard bearing the address of University College Galway – now NUI Galway’s – Oceanography Department, along with a request to return the bottle with details of where and when it was found. Current members of NUI Galway’s faculty identified the bottle as part of a drifter program run by Prof. Ed Monahan in the late 70s and early 80s. Dr. Monahan previously worked at NUI Galway, but is now emeritus faculty at the University of Connecticut. While at NUI Galway in the late 1970s and early 1980s, he conducted research with ‘drifters’ off Ireland.

The bottle, looking a little worse for wear after decades at sea (Photo: Ed Monahan via NUI Galway).

While it is possible the bottle was picked up by a fishing vessel somewhere in the North or the Norwegian Sea and discarded close to the Russian coast, Dr. White, an oceanographer NUI Galway, believes the most likely explanation is that the bottle simply drifted there via natural currents. “Currents in the Rockall Trough region will flow generally into the northern North Sea area and across to the Scandinavian side and beyond into the Arctic. However, the route would be determined by the winds and at any locality the weather systems so the route could have been very indirect,” Dr. White said.

The man who found the bottle in Kola Bay got in touch with NUI Galway’s College of Science and Engineering by email last week to notify them of his discovery and attached some photographs of it. The photographs appear to show that the serial number on the card – which would allow NUI Galway’s researchers to learn exactly where and when the bottle was sent to sea – has faded over time. Attempts to get back in touch with the man who discovered the bottle have so far been unsuccessful, but Dr. White’s Russian-speaking wife plans to send him another on behalf of the University in a bid to learn more about the bottle’s long journey from the west of Ireland to the Northwest of Russia.

Speaking on the re-emergence of one of his projects, he said “For this drift-bottle to be found 35 years after I returned from Ireland, and 15 years after I retired to emeritus status at UConn, was like “a welcome echo from the past.” I am pleased that my former colleagues in NUI, Galway, remembered my role in this study, and flattered that they saw fit to mention it to the press. It’s rare for a drift-bottle to be found so long after it was set adrift, but I am aware of drifters that have floated longer distances.”