A man who washed up on Ebon Atoll in a remote part of the Marshall Islands in the one of the remotest parts of Pacific Ocean, claims he had been out at sea for 16 months, surviving on turtles, birds and fish, in a beaten-up fiberglass boat with no fishing tackle. Oh, and by drinking turtle blood instead of rainwater when necessary. Which, apparently, is a thing you can do to live.
The man, who introduced himself as Jose Ivan, said he had set out from Mexico to El Salvador in September of 2012 with a companion who had died at sea. A Norwegian student doing research on the island said Ivan was emaciated but basically alright, adding "his condition isn't good but he's getting better." Ivan, who speaks Spanish and was not able to fully communicate with people on the island, indicated that he caught the animals with his bare hands. There were no fishing or hunting tools on the boat, but there were lots of slow turtles.
Drinking turtle blood is, reportedly, a tried and true method of surviving a long, unwanted stint at sea. According to the book Wilderness Survival for Dummies (which is totally the type of book we would buy if were going on a dangerous cross-Pacific voyage) raw turtle blood could be a life-saver:
To get water intake, you can also safely drink turtle's blood to save your life. This method has saved many castaways. Technically, the blood has protein in it, so it would seem to violate one of the rules of water conservation. But because this last-ditch source of liquid has saved so many, including friends of ours, we don't hesitate recommending it. Sea turtles are slow-moving animals and you can easily catch them, either by snagging them with hooks or gaffs (hooked poles) or by catching them with your hands.
In a 2003 post called "Dying of thirst? Try turtle blood," OceanNavigator.com notes in that seven Nicaraguan fishermen survived a month at sea because they drank turtle blood:
The health benefits of drinking raw turtle blood were put to the test recently by a group of fishermen adrift in the Pacific for a month. The seven Nicaraguans lost power on their 33-foot boat and drifted nearly 600 miles out to sea before being picked up by a merchant ship Jan. 5. Despite running out of water early in their voyage, the men stayed completely healthy because of their ability to capture turtles and drink their blood.
We're not sure just how long you can survive off turtle blood, but Ivan did say that he was also drinking rainwater. For now, Ivan will remain on the atoll's main island. The remote island only has one phone line, and its single plane is down for maintenance and won't be able to return Ivan home until Tuesday. Officials have floated the idea of removing him by boat, but we'd guess Ivan might not be keen on getting back on the water.
Though it seems obvious that Ivan was lost at sea for a long time, it's difficult to know if his impossible-sounding 16-month ordeal is accurate, especially while Ivan remains Marshall-Island-bound. According to the AFP, which broke the story, survivor stories like Ivan's are not totally unprecedented:
In 2006, three Mexicans made international headlines when they were discovered drifting, also in a small fiberglass boat near the Marshall Islands, nine months after setting out on a shark-fishing expedition. They survived on a diet of rainwater, raw fish and seabirds, with their hope kept alive by reading the Bible. In 1992, two fishermen from Kiribati were at sea for 177 days before coming ashore in Samoa.
Officials hope to learn more about the case once Ivan is transferred to Majuro, the Marshall Island's legislative district.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.
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