This Condiment Is Helping Turtles Heal From An Oil Spill

Last week, Israel was struck by an environmental disaster of huge proportions, when what CNN is describing as a "suspected oil spill" left the country struggling to clean up huge amounts of sticky black tar that had arrived unexpectedly all along Israel's Mediterranean coastline. CNN added, "The extent of the pollution is so bad, Israel's Ministry of Interior issued an advisory Sunday urging people to stay away from the country's beaches." Nine boats are currently under investigation as potential sources of the spill, according the BBC.

Israel's Nature and Parks Authority has described the apparent spill as "one of the most serious ecological disasters" the country has yet faced, and has urged locals to keep clear of the beaches entirely until the huge cleanup operation is able to tackle the unsafe pollution — as NPR reports, "tar exposure can make people sick and irritate the skin." But it is not the human cost that is the story here.

While officials uncover the source of the spill and environmentalists and volunteers attempt to clear Israel's beautiful coastline of huge amounts of toxic black tar, animal experts are attempting to save as many marine lives as possible in the wake of the disaster. Environmentalists are dismayed at the horrendous effects of the spill on local wildlife, with birds and sea turtles covered in the toxic, sticky substance. Experts are racing to save as many of the helpless creatures as possible ... and help is coming from an unlikely source.

Experts in Israel are treating sea turtles with mayonnaise

"NGOs have reported turtles and birds covered in oil," reports the BBC, while an autopsy conducted on a 55-feet-long fin whale that was discovered dead on a beach in southern Israel has revealed that the creature died with tar deposits in its system. "They all got here with a coat of tar on their heads, and in their eyes, nostrils, mouth, digestive system and stomach," the center's founder, Yaniv Levy, told Haaretz (per the BBC). "With this kind of damage they have no chance to survive without treatment. We removed the tar from their nostrils and eyes so they could breathe and see."

Besides the tar covering the surface of the wildlife, many animals have also ingested the substance, which binds and clogs their digestive systems. At the National Sea Turtle Rescue Center, veterinarians are treating dozens of the tiny creatures, with the use of a surprising miracle cure: mayonnaise. According to a February 23 report by the Associated Press, the condiment works to break down the tar and flush out the animals' clogged digestive systems — a life-saving intervention.

As Smithsonian explains, lecithin in mayo's egg yolks "creates a barrier between the tar and the turtle's digestive tract." The chemical interaction between the mayo's ingredients and the tar within the animals makes the crude oil "less sticky," much the way dish soap cleans greasy dishes. As a result, the animals can pass the oil as part of their normal digestive processes.