Coconut Crab question

Tue Jan 4 07:16:10 EST 2000


Here is a coconut crab (Birgus latro) question for consideration by the Coral 
List subscribers.  

During 1940 a partial skeleton, woman's shoe, and a sextant box (without 
sextant) were reported by the British colonial administrator of Gardner 
Island of the Phoenix Islands, now called Nikumaroro, part of the small 
nation of Kiribati.  At the time the administrator, a Mr. Gallagher, 
speculated that the skeleton might be that of Amelia Earhart.  In his report 
to his superiors, Gallagher describes the bones found as having been 
scattered by coconut crabs.  The bones discovered consisted of the following: 
 a skull, lower jaw, one thoracic vertebra, half pelvis, part scapula, 
humerus, radius, two femurs, tibia and fibula.  

I am with a nonprofit organization called TIGHAR - The International Group 
for Historic Aircraft Recovery.  For the last 12 years we have been 
investigating the disappearance of Amelia Earhart and her navigator Fred 
Noonan based upon the navigational principles in use during 1937, and what 
little scientific evidence is left regarding the mystery.  Our theory, 
primarily based upon navigational logic (and developed prior to unearthing 
the reports of bones being found on the island), is that Amelia and Fred made 
it to Gardner (Nikumaroro) Island after not being able to locate Howland 
Island, only to perish as castaways.  Artifacts discovered during several 
expeditions to Nikumaroro, including part of a 1930's woman's shoe and 
aircraft aluminum and Plexiglas, generally support our theory.  We do not 
have a smoking gun yet, however.

We'd like to know (a) whether coco crabs actually scatter bones at all (If 
they don't, then the bones must have been scattered by something else -- e.g. 
dogs brought with the colonists, which would give us a handle on when they 
were scattered); and (b) if coco crabs do scatter bones, how far do they 
scatter them (horizontally and vertically); and (c) is there any sort of 
pattern to the scattering?  Please keep in mind that some of the bones 
missing from the list above are quite large.

Unfortunately, for some strange reason nobody seems to have given these 
fascinating questions a whole lot of research attention.  Does anyone have 
insight into the capability and likelihood of coco crabs scavenging and 
scattering the body of a human sized mammal?

The bones were shipped to Tarawa and ended up in the collection of the 
Central Medical School in Fiji.  The were apparently discarded in 1990 when 
the Medical School reorganized.  Any information regarding the current 
whereabouts of the bones would be greatly appreciated.

We are also seeking photos, especially aerial photos of Nikumaroro.  Has 
anyone been there?

Please respond to me directly.  For more details about the bones
discovered and our search in general you may visit the TIGHAR website at

Thanks in advance for your help.  

Andrew McKenna
ammckenna at

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