The strange phenomenon of the human feet in running shoes on the coast of the Salish Sea, British Columbia in Canada

Salish Sea human feet in trainer

Since 2007, thirteen human feet in running shoes have been found on the beaches of British Columbia and Washington State, from Jedediah Island to Botanical Beach on the coast of the Salish Sea. Eight have been identified as pairs and the remaining single feet belonged to men. Most of these have been right feet and all of them have worn running shoes or hiking boots including three New Balances, two Nikes and an Ozark Trail.

Two shoes that could have belonged to children have been found. On August 27, 2010, on Whidbey Island in Washington State, either a woman's or child's right foot was discovered, without a shoe or sock. This foot was determined to have been in the water for two months. On December 5, 2010, in Tacoma, Washington, 40 km south of Seattle, the right foot of a boy's size 6 'Ozark Trail' hiking boot was found and likely belonged to a child or small adult

On December 14th, 2017, the latest foot was found. Mike Johns was walking with his dog on a beach in the hamlet of Jordan River in British Columbia. He discovered a tibia and fibula attached to a left human foot with a white ankle sock in a black running shoe.

The source of these shoes has been a mystery but there has been plenty of theories and speculation about where they came from. These have included suicides, serial killers, alien abductions, bodies from the tsunami of 2004, to the work of drug dealers and human traffickers. Thousands of people die at sea every year, and anybody that ends up in the ocean naturally starts to disarticulate or break down, as scavengers attack the bodies. One explanation is that some of the feet are those of four men who died in a plane crash near Quadra Island in 2005 and whose bodies have not been recovered, though one of the feet has been determined to be from a female. Perhaps a serial killer is on the loose, leaving the body parts behind as trophies.

Salish Sea British Columbia

In February 2012 one foot in a boot and sock which washed up was finally identified, 25 years after it was found. Fisherman Stefan Zahorujko’s boat overturned on January 5th 1987 off the coast of Vancouver but his body was never found and an investigation proved it was him.

Human feet have a tendency to produce adipocere (a soap-like substance formed from body fat), which makes it hard for forensic experts to find clues. Under optimal conditions, a human body may remain intact in water for as long as 20-30 years.

The coroner’s office in BC has ruled that all of the identified individuals committed suicide or died accidentally, most likely due to storms near the coast.They postulate that the feet are separating from the bodies during decomposition in the sea as there is no sign of any force or trauma being applied to the bones to sever them or any tool marks on them in any of the cases. Decomposition may separate the foot from the body because the ankle is relatively weak, and the buoyancy caused by air either inside or trapped within a shoe would allow it to float away.

But why did the feet only start appearing on British Columbian beaches since 2007? The coroner's office put forward the explanation that training shoes are using air pockets or light foam in their designs, which means they are lighter and more likely to wash up. However, finding feet and not the rest of the bodies is very unusual and finding two feet in the same area after many years seems implausible. Researchers have described this as "an anomaly" and with so many cases now it raises the possibility of foul play. 

After the first two feet, both right, were found in British Columbia just six days apart from one another, locals became alarmed and authorities expressed surprise.“Two being found in such a short period of time is quite suspicious,” Cpl. Garry Cox of the Oceanside Royal Canadian Mounted Police told the Vancouver Sun in August 2007.“Finding one foot is like a million to one odds,” Cox said, “but to find two is crazy. I’ve heard of dancers with two left feet, but come on.”

Botanical beach British Columbia

Some have postulated the “Vicious Cycle” theory, which suggests that once people became aware of the phenomenon, they started subconsciously or deliberately searching the coastline for shoes.

Another theory is that ocean currents in BC and Washington State have a way of channelling items such as floating feet into the same general area because of semi-enclosed coastlines. Fraser River, False Creek, Burrard Inlet are somewhat semi-enclosed. The tidal currents and the winds can keep things that are floating recirculating in the system.

The Human feet discoveries timings: 

  • August 2007: Foot 1 – A right foot was found on Jedediah Island. DNA analysis linked this foot to a male that went missing in 2004.
  • August 2007: Foot 2 – A right foot was found on Gabriola Island. DNA analysis linked this foot to a male that went missing in 2006.
  • February 2008: Foot 3 – A right foot was found on Gabriola Island. DNA analysis linked this foot to foot 5 and a male that went missing in 2006.
  • May 2008: Foot 4 – A right foot was found in the Fraser River near Richmond. DNA analysis linked this foot to foot #6 and a female that went missing in 2004.
  • June 2008: Foot 5 – A left foot was found in the Fraser River. DNA analysis linked this foot to foot #3 and a male that went missing in 2006.
  • November 2008: Foot 6 – A left foot was found near Kirkland Island. DNA analysis linked this foot to foot 4 and a female that went missing in 2004.
  • October 2009: Foot 7 – A right foot was found in the Fraser River near Richmond. DNA analysis linked this foot to a male that went missing in 2008.
  • August 2011: Foot 8 – A left foot was found in False Creek, Vancouver. DNA analysis linked this foot to foot 10 and an unidentified male.
  • November 2011: Foot 9 – A right boot was found in Sasamat Lake, Port Moody. DNA analysis linked this foot to a male that went missing in 1985.
  • October 2012: Foot 10 – A right foot was found in False Creek, Vancouver. DNA analysis linked this foot to foot #8 and an unidentified male.
  • February 2016: Foot 11 – A left foot was found on Botanical Beach. Anthropological and circumstantial analysis linked this foot to foot 12.
  • February 2016: Foot 12 – A right foot was found on Botanical Beach. Anthropological and circumstantial analysis linked this foot to foot 11.
  • December 2017: Foot 13 - A left  foot with a white ankle sock in a black running shoe on  Jordan River in British Columbia.