The owner of a USB stick which was found in the frozen faeces of a rare leopard seal in New Zealand has been tracked down after a nationwide search and revealed to be a seal enthusiast who had helped collect the sample 12 months earlier.
Last week the National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research (Niwa) put out of a call for the owner of a USB stick they had recovered from the scat of a leopard seal, which had sat in a scientist’s freezer for more than a year, waiting to be examined.
The USB stick was functional and revealed footage of an unidentified person in a blue kayak filming two sea lion pups on the southland coast on the South Island.
That person was Amanda Nally, the only sea lion volunteer on the entire south coast, who spotted the footage on the nightly news and immediately recognised it.
In a strange twist, Nally was the good Samaritan who phoned the leopard seal hotline in December 2017, reporting that she had found an animal on Oreti Beach looking thin.
A vet was dispatched to examine the animal, which is usually found in Antarctic waters. While the seal was being checked over Nally spotted an intact scat, and suggested it be sent to Niwa for analysis.
Leopard seal faeces is valuable to scientists because it holds a wealth of information about what the Antarctic predators eat, their general health and how long they have been in New Zealand waters.
The leopard seal was deemed in reasonable health, and the scat was dispatched north by courier. Unbeknown to Nally, it concealed her lost USB stick.
Nally initially thought she must have dropped the device while examining the leopard seal, but Niwa scientists are convinced the tale is even stranger, and more unlikely.
“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’,” Nally said.
A Niwa spokesperson confirmed the theory.
Nally said she had told Niwa they could keep the USB stick as she had the footage backed up in various places.
“No one needs to spend $1 on the postage, I have many copies of this footage, it is some of my favourite”.
Nally is aware how strange this string of events is.
“This is probably the weirdest set of coincidences in my life – ever.”