Published: Thu, March 12, 2020
Sci-tech | By Patricia Wade

Sea turtles mistake plastics for prey due to food-like odour

Sea turtles mistake plastics for prey due to food-like odour

"This new research regarding sea turtles' attraction to the smell of plastics is particularly concerning because it adds a new dimension to the plastics threat", Nick Mallos, the senior director of Ocean Conservancy's Trash Free Seas program, told Newsweek.

"The most frequently seen plastic object digested by sea turtles falls within a class of plastic that closely resembles morphological characteristics of turtle prey". Combined with the fact that floating plastics, especially plastic bags, can mimic the physical appearance of foods enjoyed by sea turtles, such as jellyfish, and you have a recipe for disaster.

But new research from the United States, released today, suggests there may be a different reason for it.

"I can imagine that a ghost fishing net drifting at the surface, serving as artificial substrate for a diverse community of rafting organisms, will emit these chemical cues on a scale appropriate for detection on the open ocean", writes Siuda in an email "But, are individual pieces of plastic small enough to be ingested by a sea turtle going to elicit the same behavioral response and at what distances?"

"We were surprised that turtles Reacted to plastic smells with deposits with the same intensity as to their food, "says Pfaller".

"Plastics that have spent time in the ocean develop smells that turtles are attracted to and this is an evolutionary adaptation for finding food, but it has now become a problem for turtles because they're attracted to the smells from the plastics", he said.

Sea turtles in all parts of the world have been eating plastic.

Conservation staff had little hope for his survival when they took him into care.

Loggerhead sea turtles respond similarly to the smell of ocean plastic and food.

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'There also are increasing reports of sea turtles that have become ill and stranded on the beach due to their ingestion of plastic'.

Researchers have previously thought turtles and other wildlife relied mostly on sight, mistaking plastic bags, jugs and other objects as jellyfish or their typical food, the study said.

No turtle involved in the study was allowed to ingest plastic and were later released into the ocean after the research was over.

"Older turtles feed further down in the water column, sometimes on the ocean bottom", she continued.

These new findings, however, show that plastics of all kinds present problems for marine animals.

Dr Lohmann said: "One concern this study raises is that dense concentrations of plastics may make turtles - or other species - think the area is an abundant source of food".

"These areas may draw in marine mammals, fish and birds because the area smells like a good foraging ground", he said.

'The best thing we can do is to keep plastic from getting into the ocean at all'. After all, the turtles are just following their instincts: If the plastic smells good, they're likely to eat it.

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