In what is easily one of the weirdest press releases New Zealand’s National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research (NIWA) has put out, the agency announced it had unearthed a fully functioning USB drive from a mound of frozen leopard seal poop.
The photos scientists found on it are the only clues of its owner, and the agency is offering to return it to that person for a price.
Look, animals are prone to consuming all sorts of things. They slurp up pee and guzzle bird tears. But in the increasingly dark hellscape of modernity, humans have introduced animals to a wide range of deadlier delicacies, from all sorts of plastics to knives and toxic chemicals. The USB drive is just the latest addition to the oeuvre of dystopian animal meals.
The bizarre case of the USB drive began on Oreti Beach in November 2017, a windswept stretch of sand flanked by dunes on the southern tip of New Zealand’s South Island. There, NIWA says a vet went to check on a emaciated leopard seal and like any normal person, decided to scoop a pile of poop to send to researchers with leopardseals.org. The group relies on volunteers to send it seal deuces so that they can get a handle on what the seals are eating. They have a whole page on the proper way to collect and send them finds (turns out an ice cream container is the preferred vessel) if rummaging around for seal poop sounds like your idea of a good time.
This particular stool sample was frozen for a year before researchers finally found the time to dismantle it. NIWA offers a helpful description of the process of how one takes apart a seal turd tower from one of the volunteers who unearthed the USB drive:
“[W]e basically have to sift it. 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.”
Frankly, that all sounds like gross stuff. In any case, this sifting process turned up a USB drive that not only worked, but has video and photos of sea lions. The only clues of who the USB owner’s identity are footage of a blue kayak and the fact that they were at some point likely hanging out with leopard seals. If that sounds like you, well, NIWA is willing to return your precious, excrement-encrusted memories, but the agency says it’ll only return the drive if you send them more leopard seal dookie, the science equivalent of send nudes.