Best Thing In Texas

The Best Thing in Texas: A Message in a Bottle Washed Up on Padre Island—57 Years Later

The missive was part of a 1962 study that attempted to track the flow of ocean currents.

message in a bottle against a water background
Illustration by Bolora Munkhbold; Bottle: Martin Konopk/Getty

WHO: Candy and Jim Duke of Corpus Christi.

WHAT: The unlikely resurfacing of a message in a bottle that was sent as part of a 57-year-old study.

WHY IT’S SO GREAT: In 1962, President John F. Kennedy announced the U.S. embargo against Cuba. Project Mercury sent John Glenn into orbit, making him the first American to do so. Bob Dylan released his debut album. And the Galveston Laboratory of the U.S. Bureau of Commercial Fisheries (now the National Marine Fisheries Service) conducted a study, sending nearly 1,800 bottles into the Gulf of Mexico to learn more about how ocean currents affect the ways shrimp drift through the water over the course of their lifetimes.

In January, one of those bottles was recovered by Candy and Jim Duke, a Corpus Christi couple enjoying their weekly beach-combing expedition on Padre Island National Shore, reported the San Antonio Express-News. According to the paper, the two were looking for bottles to add to their collection when they found it. They opened it carefully, using a corkscrew, and retrieved the card inside.

Jim Duke with the bottle found on the beach.
Jim Duke with the bottle found on the beach. Courtesy of Candy Duke
The message that was found inside the bottle.
The message that was found inside the bottle. Courtesy of Candy Duke

The message within explained the purpose of the study, as well as a postcard for the finder to fill out, explaining in detail how and where they retrieved the bottle. In exchange, the agency promised a reward of fifty cents, roughly $4.19 in today’s dollars.

The Dukes, dutiful citizens, put the postcard in the mail, although they told the agency not to bother with the reward. It made it to Matthew Johnson, acting director of the NOAA lab, who told the Express-News that he believed this particular bottle was sent out to shore around May 1962, as part of the year-long study. He also explained that, while the message-in-a-bottle technology has been around for a very long time (historians believe that it dates back to as early as 310 BCE), it’s no longer particularly relevant to science. “With the development of satellite technology, we don’t do many bottle studies anymore,” he told the paper. The bottle may not have carried great insights about shrimp, but it brought a clear reminder of how cool science can be.


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