The freaky 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.
The USB stick owner can get their storage device back, but they'll have to do a favor for the NIWA: Leopard seal scientists would like more samples of seal scat. "It can tell them what these Antarctic predators eat, a little bit about their health and how long they may have been in New Zealand waters". The USB drive is just the latest addition to the oeuvre of dystopian animal meals.
The scat was then left in a freezer for over a year before being defrosted by NIWA scientists for research purposes, revealing a USB concealed deep inside.
Volunteer Jodie Warren, who sifted through the scat and found the memory stick, expressed concern for the animal who ingested the USB.
The USB stick was full of photos and contained footage of New Zealand sea lions.
The sample, which is about the size of two bread rolls, stayed in cold storage up until three weeks ago when volunteers removed and examined it. After leaving the stick to dry out for a few weeks, the team discovered the files which may help to find the owner.
And it did. NIWA reports that it recovered "photos of sealions ... and a video of a mum and baby sealion frolicking in the shallows" plus glimpses of "the nose of a blue kayak" as the only clue to the images' origin.
The USB was found in good condition and researchers are "considering where it had come from", NIWA said on its website.
If you're missing a USB stick from a seal-watching expedition to New Zealand, we have some great news for you. They would like some more leopard seal scat.
"It is very worrying that these incredible Antarctic animals have plastic like this inside them", said Jodie Warren, who made the discovery. After all, "the more we can find out about these creatures, the more we can ensure they are looked after", Warren said.