As It Happens

Data dump mystery solved: Owner of USB stick found in seal poop revealed

A story with all the twists and turns of a seal's digestive system has finally come to an end.

Storage device belongs to the woman who found the feces in the first place

Researchers found a fully functional USB stick that had been swallowed by a leopard seal — but probably not this specific leopard seal. (Dave Allen/NIWA )

Transcript

A story with all the twists and turns of a seal's digestive system has finally come to an end.

The owner of a USB stick found inside a two-year-old sample of frozen New Zealand seal poop has been identified — and she turns out to be the woman who found the feces in the first place.

"This is probably the weirdest set of coincidences in my life — ever," marine wildlife enthusiast Amanda Nally told the Guardian newspaper.

Last week, National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research (NIWA) released video footage and pictures of sea lions found on a storage device that had been extracted from a frozen leopard seal fecal sample.

"It's be great, just for novelty, I think, to find out if somebody's missing their USB stick and find out how it got to be on the beach where the leopard seal was," marine biologist Krista Hupman told As It Happens at the time.

Nally told the Guardian she saw the story on the news and immediately recognized the footage as her own. 

She also happens to be the person who found the fecal sample, she said.

In December 2017, Nally spotted a leopard seal that looked unwell and called for help. When a vet arrived, she pointed out the seal had defecated nearby and recommended the vet take the scat to NIWA for analysis.

Her first thought was that she must have dropped the stick into the feces that day — but scientists have other theories.

"The USB stick was embedded deep in the poo. NIWA are convinced that a bird ate my USB stick, and the leopard seal then ate the bird, because he had a lot of feathers in the scat. And then bizarrely I come along and say, 'Oh there's a sample we should send to NIWA,'" she told the British newspaper.

If anything, this story proves that the truth — like a memory stick swallowed by a bird, swallowed by a leopard seal — always comes out. 

Written by Sheena Goodyear and Chris Howden.

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