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Floating feet not an unusual mystery: Investigators

By Michael Mui, 24 Hours Vancouver

A map shows the locations where severed feet have been discovered in waters in the region since 2007. (GOOGLE MAPS)

A map shows the locations where severed feet have been discovered in waters in the region since 2007. (GOOGLE MAPS)

Why do human feet keep washing up along B.C.'s coastal areas?

Investigators say there's no evidence of foul play, but local experts speculate it's a combination of newer, air-filled shoes and the relatively enclosed Georgia Strait between the mainland and Vancouver Island.

B.C. Coroners collected DNA samples of the latest foot Wednesday, found in False Creek behind Edgewater Casino in downtown the day before. It appeared to have separated naturally and had been in the water for some time.

To date, eight shoes containing feet have washed up along provincial shores since 2007, with three more found stateside. Four have been identified as belonging to three people, at least two of them Lower Mainland residents. Another two belong to an unknown woman.

"We have an awful lot of people missing in our waters, either from accidental cases or people who deliberately entered the water," said SFU forensics researcher Gail Anderson. "We're talking four years and 11 feet. That's really not that many at all."

A main factor of the Lower Mainland is that the Georgia Strait is very deep compared to similar heavily populated areas around North America, said UBC ocean sciences expert Susan Allen.

"The other enclosed area . might be San Francisco Bay, but it's a lot shallower and they would probably discover a whole body instead," she said.

Also in the past decade, newer materials and styles make shoes more likely to float.

"The polymers used in running shoes are chosen partially for their light weight," said UBC materials engineering professor Anoush Poursartip. "This means the shoe has significant buoyancy."

Canada is not unique in having noticeable numbers of human feet wash ashore. Three incidents were also found on Washington state beaches, and local investigators are working with authorities stateside.

New Zealand also has a number of confirmed cases. Several have been attributed to accidents.

"I can recall maybe three instances in the last few years," said Steve Corbett, spokesman for the New Zealand Chief Coroner's Office. "(It's) rare, but not unheard of."