Message in a Bottle Hunter | Real Messages in Bottles, Found.

Message in a Bottle History, StoriesFacts, Myths, and News.

My name is Clint Buffington, and I find messages in bottles – over 100 so far. This site shares what I have learned about messages in bottles and the people who send them.

A message in a bottle can make friends out of strangers, lovers out of the lonely, or give the dead a final chance to speak. Messages in bottles prove that people from different backgrounds can get along, if given the chance.

I started Message in a Bottle Hunter in 2011 as a blog where I could share stories of the friendships I have made through real messages in bottles. However, it quickly became something more. People began to write me seeking help with solving messages in bottles they had found. I realized there was a whole community of disconnected people out there, just trying to find each other. Since that realization, this site has served as a hub for message-in-a-bottle finders and senders.

Today, the heart of this site remains my message in a bottle blog, where I tell true stories of messages in bottles found by myself and others. This is where I post about unsolved messages, and ask readers to help find the authors.

In addition to the blog, this site also shares the real history of messages in bottles, debunking myths along the way, and explores how messages in bottles fit into science, pop culture, and modern life. I’ve also created a digital message in a bottle museum that includes bottled letters found by myself and others.

People have been sending bottled letters for centuries for all kinds of reasons. Some seek lovefriendship, or scientific data about ocean currents. Others hope to raise awareness about plastic pollution. Some send these messages as jokes or hoaxes, and still others send them in memory of lost loved ones. Many of the oldest messages were sent out of simple curiosity by regular people.

In the modern era, it has become popular to send message in a bottle gifts and invitations for special events. Bottled letters have even become a popular way to carry out seaside marriage proposals.

Clint Buffington examines a message in a bottle.

Clint Buffington examining a still-unsolved message in a bottle, sent from a Charleson, SC 6th grader sometime before 2015.

The reasons go on, but the impulse is always the same: To reach out in hopes of making a meaningful human connection. That connection can be with a stranger, or a loved one as with message in a bottle gifts, invitations & proposals.

Today, maybe more than ever, we need these powerful reminders that we all have more in common than we think. The power of a message in a bottle to make friends out of total strangers is the closest to magic we can get.

A Brief History of Floating Notes

Many stories online claim that Theophrastus, an ancient Greek philosopher and scientist, sent the first messages in bottles around 300 B.C. However, this is not true. No one seems to know where the story came from, but there is no evidence to support it, as discussed at length in my post on the myth of Theophrastus sending bottled notes.

In reality, ocean scientists sent the first bottled messages in the 18th and 19th centuries. Amazingly some of these messages in bottles are still being found today, and they are among the oldest ever found.

In those early years of ocean science, bottled letters were the best available means to study ocean currents. Nations and businesses wanted desperately to know how water moved around the ocean. This knowledge enabled them to improve shipping times, and to better plan and strategize naval operations. As the world’s population grew, we began to make and discharge more waste from shore and from vessels at sea. Floating bottled notes helped us understand how this waste moved around the sea and impacted human and marine life.

In short, the practice of setting bottled letters adrift paralleled the infancy of ocean science and the study of currents. (That same, deep, human curiosity still drives people to send bottled notes. Many “senders” simply want to know where their bottle will end up.)

Then, in the 19th century, artists seized on the concept of a message in a bottle. Edgar Allen Poe, Charles Dickens, and other realized these little vessels contained the potential for drama, romance, and adventure. Since then, the idea of the message in a bottle has become embedded in popular culture in the western world. It captures our anxiety about loneliness, our longing for love, our fear of being lost or forgotten, and much more.

Bottled Messages in Pop Culture

Over the years, writers, musicians, and artists have tapped into the powerful imagery of the message in a bottle. Sting’s song explores the need to connect in a disconnected world where what we have in common is loneliness. Taylor Swift’s song dives into longing for an impossible love. Jim Croce’s hit “Time in a Bottle” is powered by similar themes of love and longing, as well as a wish to preserve special times.  Nicholas Sparks’s book taps into the romantic potential of bottled notes and their ability to commemorate lost loved ones. These impulses – to connect, to love, to memorialize – are so deeply human that they are in each of us.

Far from being a flippant gesture, sending or finding a message in a bottle can be one of the most significant experiences of a person’s life. Similarly, a letter, found after being lost at sea, is often the most important letter a person ever receives. I consider it my job to find and deliver them, not unlike the character in the great children’s book “The Uncorker of Ocean Bottles”.

Stories about messages in bottles have enchanted us for centuries. Edgar Allen Poe and Charles Dickens wrote popular stories about the phenomenon. Their stories thrive on the otherworldly power of seafaring bottled letters to connect people in the unlikeliest ways.

In music, Sting is in good company: Taylor Swift, Jim Croce, Kenny Chesney, Zac Brown Band, and Jordan Zevon (son of Warren Zevon) to name just a few, all explore deep human concerns, our joys and sorrows, our highs and lows, through the limitless possibilities of bottles and what they can hold (loneliness, love, time, fun…everything!).

Clint Buffington and Paula PIerce with her father's message in a bottle, estimated to be 35 - 50 years old.

Clint Buffington and Paula PIerce with her father’s message in a bottle, estimated to be 35 – 50 years old.

Hooked by a Message in a Bottle

I found my first message in a bottle in 2007, and was immediately hooked. Since then, I have found over 100 more, traveled to meet the senders in person, and built friendships along the way that are both impossible and real. That’s how it feels when you find a letter in a bottle lying on the beach: totally impossible, vividly real. Like your first kiss, your first broken heart – a lightning strike so powerful you’ll never forget it. For me, that feeling is the same every time I find one. The magic never wears off!

Since finding my first messages, I have spent years researching the history of this phenomenon. I have learned how and even why people send them. I have learned about strange hoaxes and a whole slew of myths about bottled notes, many of which continue to circulate online today, even among reputable sources like NOAA and National Geographic–because that is the emotional power of messages in bottles. These bottled notes feel so close to magic, and the hoaxes and myths just seem so cool, that we want them to be true. This is another interesting thing about messages in bottles. They highlight the way that we humans will believe something to be true whether or not there is evidence.

I have learned a lot, and I keep learning. But more than anything, I have learned about people. The people behind the messages teach me again and again that we all have more in common than we think. They show me that most people are good and kind and want to be friendly with strangers. The smallness of bottles requires that the messages we put into them be stripped down to the essentials: love, loss, longing, the deep need for companionship, to be heard and seen in a crowded, noisy world. We need to make and have friends, we need to be known by others. We need a chance to connect with one another in a positive, pleasant way. When we do that, we see each other as real, whole people.

These little bottled notes are powerful–every bit as intoxicating as the spirits they held before they became time capsules. I guess you could say that I am addicted.

Share Your Message in a Bottle Stories, Questions, and Comments

Feel free to contact me with questions, comments, message in a bottle stories, or media inquiries. If you have found a message in a bottle, I would love to help you solve it!

And, of course, if you’d like to see happy news in your timeline, click here to find (and “like”) my Facebook page and follow me on Instagram!