Researchers in New Zealand made a startling discovery when looking through leopard seal scat: a fully functioning USB stick.
The discovery came amidst studying the diets of the seal, the second largest in the Antarctic region. The species is flourishing, which highlights the fact that even a healthy species like the leopard seal is forced to deal with humanity’s increased invasion of their space.
“It is very worrying that these amazing Antarctic animals have plastic like this inside them,” says Jodie Warren, a volunteer at New Zealand’s National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research who ended up cleaning off the dirty drive, in a press statement.
NIWA marine biologist Dr. Krista Hupman works with a volunteer group, LeopardSeals.org, to help study the Antarctic animals when they’re near New Zealand shores. The organization’s website excitedly describes picking up scat, “a great way to get information about what they have been eating, without disturbing the animal.”
It helpfully notes that scat “can look like a thick puddle (and can be a whole range of colours) or similar to a large deposit from a dog!”
That’s exactly what a volunteer looked for at New Zealand’s Oreti Beach, where they found some scat, collected it, and mailed it to Dr. Hupman in November 2017. Dr. Hupman placed the sample in a freezer, where it stayed until Warren and another volunteer, Melanie Magnan, sifted through it in early 2019.
After defrosting, “we basically have to sift it,” Warren says. “You put it under the cold tap, get all the gross stuff off, smoosh it around a bit and separate the bones, feathers, seaweed and other stuff.”
That’s when the USB stick was discovered. In surprisingly good condition, the volunteers decided to leave it out to dry for a few weeks and plug it in, in hopes of figuring out the mystery. It worked.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the USB stick inside a seal’s mouth had pictures of marine life on it. There are pictures and videos of New Zealand sea lions on the USB, which actually are endangered. There is no further information about who took these photos, except for the fact that they likely used a blue canoe along the beach.
If the owner of the USB stick would like it reclaimed, there’s a small price they will have to pay for littering: pick up more scat in return for Dr. Hupman to study.
Seals in New Zealand generally know how to handle themselves. Last year, one whipped a kayaker with a helpless octopus and then swam away before anyone was the wiser.
Originally posted on Popular Mechanics