PENINSULA -- Four boats, all likely from Japan's 2011 tsunami, washed up on Southwest Washington shores over the weekend. A piece of a skiff also washed up on Whidbey Island.
A relatively mild winter ended with several severe storms in February and March and these, along with seasonal shifts in coastal currents, could have helped drive debris to the shore, said Dianna Parker, a spokesperson with NOAA's Marine Debris Program.
"It's likely these are tsunami debris," Parker said. "We've seen things wash up in this scattered, unpredictable way over the last few years."
Three of the boats showed up on the Long Beach Peninsula.
On Friday, Dianna Klineburger and her husband were visiting the Peninsula from Lynnwood when they happened upon one of the boats, a 21-foot vessel beached near the Ocean Park Beach approach.
It was crusted with strange-looking barnacles and mussels, Klineburger said.
"They weren't like anything you're used to seeing [out here]," she said. The couple didn't touch them, but could see "they were alive and well."
Klineburger said they looked for any markings on the boat to indicate where it might have come from, but couldn't make out anything under the thick layer of ocean creatures. They called Washington Fish and Wildlife to report their find.
That same day, the bow piece of a small skiff washed ashore north of Ebby's Landing on Whidbey Island. On Saturday, two more boats washed up on the Peninsula one north of the Seaview Beach Approach and the other south of the Bolstad Beach Approach. Then on Sunday night, a 23-foot-long boat covered in gooseneck barnacles and other marine life washed up near Ocean City.
The boats and the skiff bow were removed from the beaches and stored at nearby state parks, said Linda Kent, communications manager for the Department of Ecology's Southwest and Olympic region.
DOE is in the process of scraping away the marine life covering the boat Klineburger found, hoping to find serial numbers or registration marks that could lead them back to the boat's owner. The Washington State Marine Debris Task Force is investigating the skiff bow.
If any of the vessels do appear to be Japanese, state agencies will work with the Consulate General of Japan in Seattle to identify and contact the boat owners. If the owners can't be found or there is no way to trace the boats back to an owner, Kent said the boats would usually be disposed of. However, in the last week, she's had several people offer to take any unclaimed boats.
"It's something that we're open to but the first step is to see if we can track down the original owner," she said.