As part of a seal health check last month, New Zealand volunteers inspected a hunk of defrosted seal poop and found the usual waste: Bones, seaweed and feathers, according to the country’s National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research.
“We basically have to sift it,” volunteer Jodie Warren said of the poop, according to a NIWA news release. “You put it under the cold tap, get all the gross stuff off, smoosh it around a bit.”
But Warren and another volunteer soon stumbled upon something very, very bizarre — or bizarre to find in seal poop, at least. There was a “large and hard” USB drive hidden deep in the scat, which a veterinarian had gathered from a skinny leopard on Oreti Beach in Invercargill in November 2017, the news release said. The poop was then sent to NIWA marine biologist Krista Hupman, who froze it until it was defrosted and sifted through about three weeks ago.
Hupman gets sent seal poop from across New Zealand because the waste is “valuable to scientific research,” according to NIWA. Most of the poop is roughly “the size of two bread rolls,” the news release states.
Researchers dried out the memory stick (which was “in reasonably good condition considering where it had come from”) for a few weeks, according to NIWA. Next the team checked to see what, if anything, was on it.
Remarkably, the USB drive still worked: It contained a video of a mother and baby sea lion swimming around in the water in front of a blue kayak, and photos of sea lions resting at Porpoise Bay in the Catlins, on the southern tip of the country’s large southern island, according to NIWA.
Here’s the video:
The two sea lions swim around the kayak — coming out of the water and diving back under — and even venture onto land before splashing back in, video shows.
The volunteers didn’t find the USB discovery funny.
“It is very worrying that these amazing Antarctic animals have plastic like this inside them,” Warren said, according to the NIWA news release.
Plastics are a growing problem in seas around the world: Even the crustaceans crawling in the deepest, darkest corners of the ocean floor have now been found with human-made plastics inside their bodies, according to a 2017 study, which estimated that 300 million tons of plastic litter the world’s oceans. Closer to the surface, sharks have washed ashore dead after encounters with plastic, and fishermen have caught fish in freshwater ringed with plastics like Powerade wrappers, as McClatchy has reported.
New Zealand researchers are now looking to figure out who the USB drive belonged to. But if the owner wants it back, researchers said, he or she is going to have to send in more seal poop for research purposes.
LeopardSeals.org, a group of volunteers that studies the animals, has a whole webpage dedicated to the ins and outs of seal scat collection.
“Scat (the scientific term for seal poo) is an incredible source of information,” the page says. “It can tell us about the health (or not) of an individual, but also about their personal hunting preferences.”
One can guess the seal didn’t mean to hunt USB drives.