Amelia Earhart 80-Year Mystery: Did Dog-Sized Coconut Crabs On Nikumaroro Island Scatter Remains?

Amelia Earhart and her navigator Fred Noonan are believed to have lived their final days out on Nikumaroro Island, which is a small, deserted, and very remote island in the Pacific Ocean. This has been one of the leading theories since Amelia Earhart disappeared 80 years ago today.

Nikumaroro Island was near enough to Earhart's flight plan that it warranted a search. In fact, it has been the location of more than a dozen searches over the years.

Months after Earhart disappeared, a British explorer went to Nikumaroro Island with the hopes of possibly colonizing it in the future. Pictures that were taken during that expedition show what possibly looks like the landing gear of a plane sticking out from the surf along the coral reef of the island.

In 1938, the island became part of the Phoenix Island Settlement Scheme and the people on the island found airplane parts, which could have come from a plane similar to Earhart's, an Electra. In 1940, the colony's administrator found 13 bones that were buried near the remains of an old campfire in another area of the small island.

Along with the bones, the tattered remains of a woman's and a man's shoe were found. A sextant, much like the one Fred Noonan was known to use for navigating, was also found on the island. Those bones were shipped, examined by two doctors then lost, but the findings were enough to send another search party to the island attempting to answer the question still prevalent today -- "What happened to Amalia Earhart?"

Did coconut crabs carry off the remains of Amelia Earhart on a Pacific island?
Amelia Earhart [Image by Associated Press/AP Images]

Before the bones were lost in Fiji, they were examined and measured by two doctors. One believed the bones belonged to a Polynesian woman and the other doctor thought they belonged to a man of European decent.

The International Group For Historic Airplane Recovery, called TIGHAR, launched their first of 12 expeditions to Nikumaroro Island in 1989. Near that old campfire site found decades earlier, they've actually found several more sites that appeared to be the location of yet more campfires from long ago. This find came along with indications that someone ate food they probably cooked over those fires with remnants of birds, clams, fish, and turtles around the area.

They could tell by the way the clams were opened and the fact that the fish heads were not eaten, that it wasn't someone native to the islands in that area who cooked food there. Amelia Earhart used freckle cream and a bottle that is similar to the old bottles that once contained that product was also found at the site. The island itself is small, only four-and-a-half miles long and one-and-a-half miles wide. According to National Geographic, it appears as a "mere speck" on the majority of the maps from that area of the Pacific Ocean.

Back in a 2015 expedition by TIGHAR, soil samples were taken and brought back with the crew. Those samples were introduced to cadaver dogs and one of them "alerted" on the soil. Those dogs were taken to Nikumaroro Island and will search the area this week. The four cadaver dogs taken to this island may just be the key to finding out what really did happen to Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan.

Did the remains of Amelia Earhart get scattered along the shore of a deserted Pacific island by huge coconut crabs?
Amelia Earhart, Fred Noonan, and an unnamed man. [Image by Associated Press/AP Images]

The theories that explain where Earhart and Noonan spent their final days after disappearing on July 2, 1937, are numerous. Some believe they were captured by the Japanese after they landed in a remote area of the Pacific and died as prisoners in a camp. There is even a theory that they survived and moved on while assuming new identities. Others think they more than likely crash-landed in the ocean and died the day they went missing.

The theory that suggests they landed on the shoreline at low tide on Nikumaroro Island and lived for quite some time on that island is what TIGHAR has based their searches on. The tides were extremely low surrounding the island during the year Earhart went missing, so the plane could have landed, but later carried off in pieces out to the reef or out to sea.

According to the Telegraph, Earhart's last transmission indicated that she was running out of gas and they could not find the Island, Howland Island, their intended place to land. That was it, nothing more was ever heard from the two occupants of that plane. Amelia Earhart was declared dead in 1939, two years after her disappearance as the first woman to attempt to circle the globe in a plane.

It stands to reason that if they both survived, one died before the other, so one may have been buried by the survivor. When the remaining one died, there would not have been a burial because no one was there to do it. The island is home to some of the biggest crabs in the world, called coconut crabs. They can grow fairly large, to about the size of a small dog, according to Mental Floss.

One of the theories is that the survivor who wasn't buried was carried off by these crabs and those remains could be scattered about the shoreline or long-gone in the ocean. Of course, this is just a theory and becoming a bit of folklore today, but the Smithsonian Magazine cited an experiment that offered up evidence this is possible. The coconut crabs are capable of eating the flesh of a pig and scattering the bones, which was the experiment done with these crabs. So it stands to reason that human remains could be devoured and carted off just as easily. These crabs have known to eat chickens and kittens, as they do grow to a good size.

[Featured Image by Associated Press/AP Images]