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Turtles Caught in Disastrous Oil Spill Treated With Mayonnaise

The tar-covered animals were given the condiment to flush out their digestive systems

To aid the turtles in flushing out their digestive systems clogged with crude oil, workers at the sea turtle rescue are feeding them mayonnaise, which will break down the tar and make it easier to expel out. ( (Photo by MENAHEM KAHANA/AFP via Getty Images))
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To clean up an oily mess, one might reach for dish soap. But for cleaning tar out of the eyes, throats and nasal passages of sea turtles, a common sandwich condiment proved to be a better option this week following an oil spill in Israel. Employees at Israel's National Sea Turtle Rescue used mayonnaise to treat 11 endangered green sea turtles that washed ashore covered in tar, reports Nicoletta Lanse for Live Science.

Last week, an unknown source caused a massive oil spill in the Mediterranean Sea that left beaches coated in thick black tar. At least 120 miles of coastline was affected, leading Israel's Nature and Parks Authority (INPA) to call it one of the most severe ecological disasters the country has faced, reports Ariel Shalit for the Associated Press.

"They came to us full of tar. All their trachea from inside and outside was full of tar," says Guy Ivgy, a medical assistant at the Sea Turtle Rescue Center in Michmoret, to the Associated Press.

To aid the turtles in flushing out their digestive systems clogged with crude oil, workers at the sea turtle rescue are feeding them mayonnaise, which will break down the tar and make it easier to expel out as poop, Ivgy explained to Live Science.

Mayo and other fatty substances are used because they are emulsions, a mixture of two substances that don't usually combine easily, such as oil and water, reports Live Science. Despite being made up of oil and water, mayonnaise is held together by egg yolks. The egg yolks contain lecithin molecules that repel water on one side and dissolve water on the other. Lecithin acts as an emulsifier that mixes the water and oils, creating the sauce, reports Live Science.

The mix gives mayonnaise hydrophobic (water-repelling) and hydrophilic (water-loving) properties that allow it to interact with the hydrophobic oily tar inside the turtle's digestive tract. The mayonnaise's oil interacts with the tar making it thinner. The lecithin from egg yolks creates a barrier between the tar and the turtle's digestive tract when its hydrophobic side binds to the tar while its hydrophilic side faces the outside, reports Live Science. This interaction makes the crude oil less sticky, so it can be flushed out, similar to how dish soap works to clean greasy dishes.

The turtles' recovery is expected to take one to two weeks, and they will be released back into the wild once the turtles bounce back, reports the Associated Press.

About Elizabeth Gamillo
Elizabeth Gamillo

Elizabeth Gamillo is a science journalist based in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. She has written for Science magazine as their 2018 AAAS Diverse Voices in Science Journalism Intern.

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