View Full Version : A Human Bone in the Ocean

09-06-2010, 12:29 AM
I need the following scenario:

A girl finds a bone brought up to a beach on the water.

It shouldn't have flesh on it. She needs to wonder how recent it is.

She needs to wonder whether it's human.

An authority or older person needs to know quickly that it could be human.

I need to be able to decribe it. I'm thinking a bone in the arm? Maybe from a body a month dead? The bone's owner, a girl, commited suicide in the ocean.

Any help is appreciated. I especially can't figure out the color/texture combined with a time of death.

I probably need to know whether other parts would have been found for sure. I'd like it to be the only part found, and I can change the time of death if necessary. The suicide girl could have weighted herself down, etc -- she just needs to be an ocean suicide.

Thanks for any thoughts!

09-06-2010, 05:04 AM
I'm no expert on this but I think i takes a fairly long time for flesh to completely decompose from bodies in the ocean. I did a quick google search and found tha bodies tend to sink for a few days to a few weeks (depending on the amount of bacteria in the stomach) then float back to the surface. I think those bodies are usually intact at around a month. I would think a body would need at least 6 months to a year to completely loose the flesh. I think water logged bones tend to have a greyish color over top of the normal cream bone color, although I may be just remembering that from tv. Bone is very porous and can absorb many micro-organisms that are found in the water. Sometimes they use the orgaisms to try and date bone material. I think it's possible for a single bone to get seperated from a corpse but if a missing person is involved they may do a search for the body.

09-06-2010, 05:13 AM
Nope...flesh in the ocean will dissolve quickly. How quickly I am not a hundred percent sure because there is a lot of factors that go into how the body reacts. There is also the little sea creatures to consider, like crabs and small fish that will nibble on just about anything...

I once had to help pull a floater out of the Potomac River. The skin just peeled off where ever we touched it. The whole body was bloated, hands, arms, legs, face. It had only been in the river for about four days the boys in the lab said. And the little fishy and critters were already making a snack of it.

Its a sight I never want to see again...

09-06-2010, 06:46 AM
Look up the Feet of Vancouver. Bone with flesh on it in a shoe with ages usually around 6-8 weeks before appearing. The RCMP and FBI are stumped as to where they are coming from. But never a torso, never a skull, never an arm. Only feet, nine of them.

09-06-2010, 09:25 AM
there wouldn't be any flesh left after a month. All the little fishies would pick it apart pretty quickly.

A suggestion on the bone. For some reason the femur tends to be pretty easily recognized. It can also be pushed up be currents, assuming she didn't jump too far from the coast.

09-06-2010, 10:32 AM
So awesome, y'all! Thanks so much!

I can make it up to 6 months, probably. That would have to satisfy readers, no? Folks in the story have no idea where the girl went, and I think I'll make that part in a busy city where they aren't going to drag the ocean randomly for one missing girl.

A femur would be great for the story. Is it feasible that a femur would be the only thing found? I'll definitely make her weight herself and try not to be found.

It's not the main plot, but it's totally crucial, you know? Thanks!!

09-06-2010, 02:04 PM
I think it that how quickly you rot or get eaten all depends where you are. Hot equals fast; cold equals slow. The flesh can go quickly but not the clothes. A femur is pretty big and I would have expected it to be the least likely bone to wash up on a beach. Try a tooth instead (and maybe a pink one!). I don't think you can identify the time of death from bones very easily and I believe a forensics expert would look at things like chemical decay, etc. They can tell things about age and sex though from its appearance. A DNA test might determine if it was human and even who it came from.

C.M. Daniels
09-07-2010, 12:02 PM
If this bone is from a teen girl, there will also be some other distinguishing features. The bones of young people keep growing until about the age of 21. Growth plates at the ends of the bones (epiphises) will not have fused together completely, or at all depending on the age the girl was when she died. This means that even the most recognizable bones, may not be recognizable at all to people who've never had any exposure to human osteology.

At first, this bone will probably be confused for an animal bone. When it comes to remains washing up out of the ocean, seals and humans get confused a lot. It often takes an expert to tell them apart. Bones and driftwood get confused too. Sometimes, a piece of wood/drywall/porcelain will look scary close to being a bone.

There shouldn't be any flesh left on the bone, unless there is some sort of barrier preventing fish and other sea creatures from nibbling off the soft tissue.

If you have any other questions, drop me a PM. I'm a forensic anthropologist who works as a county coroner, so I've got a good background for stuff like this.

Happy writing!

09-07-2010, 12:22 PM
So excellent! Thank you so much. It is a teenager. And it's so perfect that it could be mistaken for an animal bone.

Kenn, I may go back to a smaller arm bone. A tooth doesn't have the effect I'm looking for, and a femur may also be too big for plot reasons (the MC girl takes the bone with her). I read about the Canadian feet (ew), and I'm thinking there's a greater chance of a forarm detaching than a thigh.

I'm still open to feelings on which bone, for sure.

Y'all are the best!

09-07-2010, 05:35 PM
I lost my connection, but I was going to say, Depending on how she weighted herself those bones could still be found where she came to a rest at. If she tied a slip knot or a snare into a rope it'll keep cinching during the bloating stages.

Depending on how much you want to be found, there could be a situation. If you want all of her to be found she could jump at the beginning of the spring tide, and won't show up until a neap tide. Those are generally two weeks apart.

If you want less of her found, she could jump in a kelp forest area. Have whatever bone gets found become entangled into a detached piece. And there are critters that might carry away bones down there.

09-07-2010, 06:11 PM
Crabs are supposedly extremely quick at stripping a body of any softish tissue. Sounded plausible to me when i heard it, those claws should really help, while most fish tend to swallow their prey whole, and have to wait until it decays enough to nibble on pieces. There are exceptions of course (the famous piranhas for example)
Anyway, point being that with the right fauna, a body can be very quickly turned into a skeleton, even without relying on bacterial decay.

09-13-2010, 03:02 AM
As I kid I often found vertebrae of who knows what (or who) washed up in singles and small sets.

The points are worn down, exposing the cork-like area within (where the marrow sits) to some degree. And sometimes all the edges. They are also pretty darn white.

http://farm4.static.flickr.com/3030/2918716689_720e369ed5.jpg (google images- drift bones) Also try bones on beach