Someone’s Lost Vacation Photos Turned Up in Leopard Seal Poop

Come get them.

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Feb 5 2019, 7:12pm

Leopard seal. Image: Wikipedia

Scientists in New Zealand are looking for the owner of a USB stick embedded within a pile of seal poop.

The stick, according to a blog post from New Zealand’s National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research (NIWA) on Tuesday, contains someone’s lovely vacation photos of Porpoise Bay on the South Island.

Photo contained on USB stick found in leopard seal poop in New Zealand.
One of the nice photos found on the USB stick. Source: National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research

A veterinarian first collected the scat from Oreti Beach—roughly 60 miles west of Porpoise Bay—in November 2017 while monitoring a sickly leopard seal. The poop was sent to the lab of NIWA biologist Krista Hupman who threw it in the freezer for storage.

Three weeks ago, when the poop was taken out of the freezer to be examined, Hupman felt something hard “deep inside the scat.”

Poop is important to seal researchers as it contains a history of the animal’s life. Scientists are especially curious about the prey that leopard seals are hunting and consuming.

The sifting process is predictably icky. “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,” Hupman said.

Apparently the USB stick was in good enough condition for Hupman to dry it out and pop it into a computer.

The photos were mostly of Porpoise Bay and featured a few local sealions. Their owner, however, remains a mystery.

According to NIWA, “the only clue to who might have taken them is the nose of a blue kayak.”

How the seal managed to swallow the USB stick may never be known. But New Zealand’s oceans are notably full of plastic marine debris that endangers sea life.

“It is very worrying that these amazing Antarctic animals have plastic like this inside them,” Hupman said.

Leopard seals are found near the Antarctic ice pack but can travel to New Zealand during winter months. It’s unknown how many inhabit New Zealand waters, according to the country’s Department of Conservation, which is why researchers ask that anyone who sees a leopard seal report it to a special hotline.

NIWA said it will return the stick in exchange for “some more leopard seal scat please.”

So if you’re the owner, and that sounds like a fair price, you know what to do.