February 17, 2013
Researchers Attempting To Develop Prosthetic Flippers For Injured Loggerhead Turtle
redOrbit Staff & Wire Reports — Your Universe Online
Officials at a Japanese aquarium are looking for a high-tech apparatus that will help an injured, endangered loggerhead turtle regain the ability to swim after she lost both front flippers in a 2008 shark attack.
The 25-year-old turtle, which is named Yu, currently resides at the Suma Aqualife Park in Kobe, where she was transported following the attack five years ago, according to Ruairidh Villar of Reuters.
"She was in a really bad way. More than half her fins were gone and she was bleeding, her body covered with shark bites," Naoki Kamezaki, Director General of Suma Aqualife Park, told Villar.
After being rescued from a fishing net on the southern island of Shikoku and recovering from her wounds, Yu was only able to swim at roughly 60 percent of her normal capacity, Sean Kane of iTechPost explained.
In order to help her out, experts have attempted to outfit the 32 inch long, 227 pound loggerhead with 27 different types of prosthetic fins, but thus far their efforts have not been successful, according to FrenchTribune.com´s Rance Leroy.
They recruited the assistance of a local prosthetics developer, as well as a team of researchers. However, according to Reuters, the first several sets of prosthetic flippers were largely unsuccessful. Many of them simply fell off, while Kane said others that were mounted directly onto the limb stumps caused Yu too much discomfort.
“With money short, Kamezaki said he sometimes felt like packing it in,” Villar said. “The latest version — made of rubber and fixed together with a material used in diving wetsuits — was unveiled on February 11 and proclaimed a success, with Yu swimming smoothly around her tank. But on Friday, one flipper slipped out as soon as she hit the water, forcing keepers back to the laboratory again.”
The new device featured rubber flippers that are connected to a black vest, which is then placed over the loggerhead turtle rather than connected directly to the limb stumps, Kane said. Its failure has forced Kamezaki and his team to once again rethink their design, Reuters said, hoping to give the turtle some chance at living a normal life.
"My dream for her is that one day she can use her prosthetic fins to swim to the surface, walk about, and dig a proper hole to lay her eggs in," Kamezaki told Villar. "When her children hatch, well, I just feel that would make all the trauma in her life worthwhile."