As any parent who has sifted through their offspring’s bowel movements in search of something that shouldn’t have been swallowed in the first place can tell you, coins, magnets, and even small plastic toys can survive a voyage through the digestive tract. It turns out that USB thumb drives can as well, at least when the pinniped digestive system is involved.
Researchers in New Zealand are looking for the owner of a USB thumb drive that was discovered in a frozen seal turd—specifically, that of an Antarctic leopard seal. According to the National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research in New Zealand, volunteers working with an organization devoted to studying leopard seals and educating the public about them collected and froze the seal scat in November 2017.
When it comes time to see what the leopard seals had for dinner, seal stool samples are thawed and then sifted. “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,” Jodie Warren, a volunteer with leopardseals.org, told NIWA.
As another volunteer, Jodie Magnan, worked with the seal poopsicle, she noticed an unusual object inside. After determining it was a USB drive, the undigested hardware was allowed to dry off for a few weeks at room temperature. After plugging the stick into a computer, the volunteers discovered the contents were still intact. There were pictures of sea lions on a beach and a video of a female sea lion and her pup in the water. The video also provides the only clue about the former owner of the thumb drive—the nose of a blue kayak seen in the video.
NIWA is searching for the owner of a USB stick found in the poo of a leopard seal…
Recognise this video? Scientists analysing the scat of leopard seals have come across an unexpected discovery – a USB stick full of photos & still in working order! https://t.co/2SZVkm5az4pic.twitter.com/JLEC8vuHH0
— NIWA (@niwa_nz) February 5, 2019
So if you lost a thumb drive on a beautiful New Zealand beach and thought you’d never see it again, you may be in luck. And researchers would be happy to hand the drive over to the original owner, ideally in exchange for some fresh feces. After all, “the more we can find out about these creatures, the more we can ensure they are looked after,” Warren said.