The mystery of how a USB stick came to be found in a frozen sample of leopard seal poop in New Zealand has been solved, and it’s an interesting journey, to say the least.
Last week, the world was simultaneously surprised and intrigued when the story of the USB popping up unexpectedly made headlines.
Researchers at New Zealand's National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research (NIWA) run a leopard seal program to study the rare seals, and one of the best ways to do this is to look at their scat. It can tell a huge amount about what the seals eat, where they go, and their health. To get it, however, they need volunteers who collect the samples and send them off to the Institute.
One such sample, found on Oreti Beach, Invercargill, was collected a year ago and had been frozen to preserve it. Getting through the samples takes time, and it was only last week NIWA revealed in a blog post that when they’d defrosted this particular sample, an unexpected item had appeared: a USB stick.
Incredibly, when cleaned, the USB worked and revealed kayak footage of some frolicking seals in Porpoise Bay on the South Island. NIWA tweeted the footage, keen to find the owner, and the unexpected discovery went international.
Now, the owner of the USB has come forward after seeing her footage on national television, and revealed a rather serendipitous story. Amanda Nally, a volunteer with New Zealand’s Sea Lion Trust was surprised to recognize her own footage on TV, as she hadn’t even realized she’d lost the USB, always backing up her photos and videos.
Incredibly, it turns out she was the very volunteer who found the scat sample and sent it to NIWA in the first place, completely unaware her USB was in it.
A year ago, just a few days after filming while out kayaking, she’d spotted and reported a sickly looking seal at Oreti Beach. While a vet was dispatched to look over the animal, she noticed some scat nearby and suggested sending it to NIWA for their program. The seal was declared healthy, and the scat duly couriered off to the Institute.
Later, when it turned out this very sample had held the USB, Nally thought perhaps she had dropped it on the beach that day, but NIWA researchers have an ever stranger theory.
"How the USB stick got in the seal poo remains a quandary – the scientists who unfroze the sample are adamant it was too enmeshed to have simply been dropped in it as it were," Nally told Motherboard.
"It was surrounded by feathers and small bird bones, so they thought it may have been accidentally dropped by me, then picked up by a seabird, which was in turn eaten by a leopard seal, which was then found by me."
She is well aware this bizarre chain of coincidences sounds stranger than fiction, but then, as she told Motherboard, "sometimes life is...".