After scientists in New Zealand found a USB stick buried in leopard seal poop, the world begged to know: just who had lost their photos inside of a seal?
Mere hours later, New Zealand resident Amanda Nally came forward as the owner, quickly putting the mystery to bed.
“I feel bad here because I feel like I'm ruining a really good story,” Nally told New Zealand television show The Project on Wednesday. “The truth is I am quite seal-focused and I found the leopard seal out at Oreti Beach, and I'm guessing I dropped the USB stick in the seal poo on the beach.”
Scientists in New Zealand were surprised to find a memory stick lodged in leopard seal scat that had been collected one year prior at Oreti Beach, the National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research said in a Tuesday blog post.
When researchers popped the USB into a computer, they discovered that it contained someone’s photos of sea lions in neighboring Porpoise Bay near Waikawa. However, there were no selfies that revealed the owner’s face.
"That footage [of the sea lions] was literally from my own backyard," Nally told Motherboard staff writer Joseph Cox in an email on Thursday.
"I’m a volunteer beach walker with the New Zealand Sea Lion Trust," said Nally, who had kayaked over to the animals in order to film them.
At Oreti Beach, three days later, Nally spotted a sickly-looking leopard seal and contacted a veterinarian with the National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research. Nally believes this was the same seal whose poop contained her USB stick.
"How the USB stick on the seal poo remains a quandary—the scientists who unfroze the sample are adamant it was too enmeshed to have simply been dropped in it as it were," Nally explained.
"It was surrounded by feathers and small bird bones, so they thought it may have been accidentally dropped by me, then picked up by a seabird, which was in turn eaten by a leopard seal, which was then found by me," she added.
Nally claims to have seen the photos broadcast on The Project and immediately recognized them.
"I had no idea I had dropped the USB—it’s favorite footage so I’ve got it backed up all over the place," Nally told Motherboard. "I did a huge double take when I saw it flash up on a local news bulletin."
The mystery of whose photos wound up in seal poop kicked off an internet-wide search to find the owner. Twitter user Conor Nolan connected the photos to Nally by searching the #Waikawa hashtag on Instagram within a certain timeframe.
“I posted my own tweets, left a comment on her post saying ‘I found you!’” Nolan said. “Then she deleted that post and she made a similar post after her interview with The Project (with cleaned-up language).”
The National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research said on Tuesday it was willing to exchange the USB stick for more leopard seal poop.
"Sounds like an incredible chain of coincidences but sometimes life is stranger than fiction," Nally said. "New Zealand beaches are not exactly littered with sea mammals, so I count both these experiences as pretty special."
This story has been updated to include comments from Amanda Nally.
Joseph Cox contributed reporting to this story.