Skip to content
Subscriber Only

When a Castaway Sends an S.O.S. to the World, Where Does It Go?

A dead Laysan Albatross lying on ground with its stomach filled with plastic ingestion at sea, Eastern Island, Midway Atoll, in the North Pacific Ocean, 2009. Photographer: Paul and Paveena Mckenzie/Visuals Unlimited/Corbis
A dead Laysan Albatross lying on ground with its stomach filled with plastic ingestion at sea, Eastern Island, Midway Atoll, in the North Pacific Ocean, 2009. Photographer: Paul and Paveena Mckenzie/Visuals Unlimited/Corbis

The myth of the desert island castaway, kept alive forever in movies, song and frequent New Yorker cartoons, needs a rewrite.

The poor soul scrawls his plea for salvation (conventionally his) with whatever writing instrument and parchment the island allows. He rolls it up, slides it into a bottle, pops in the cork and launches it into the sea.