Underwater Utley’s Oil Spill


To learn about oil spills and the effects on sea life


  • Two bowls of water (2 ½ quart bowls work well) 
  • Salad oil
  • Bird feather


Begin by talking about oil spills that have occurred when oil tankers spill their cargo into the ocean.  Following the discussion, add one cup of oil to one of the bowls of water. The oil and water separate, and the oil floats on top of the water. Take the feather and place it in the fresh water. What happens? Now, take the wet feather and place it in the bowl with the oily water. For the final step, take the feather from the oily water and place it back into the fresh water. What happens?



You have demonstrated what happens when there is an oil spill in the ocean. Initially, when the feather was placed in the fresh water, the feather repelled the water, allowing it to float. After the feather was dipped into the oily water, and then back into the fresh water, it sank below the surface because the oily feather could no longer repel water. This is why oil in the oceans is so dangerous for the majority of sea life. Birds can become waterlogged and drown or may be poisoned while trying to clean their feathers.