February 28, 2008

Sea Turtle to Receive Prosthetic Flipper

A group of medical professionals in Texas hope to attach a prosthetic flipper to an injured sea turtle found by tourists.

The disabled Atlantic green sea turtle, named Allison after one of the tourists' daughter, was found with only one of four flippers remaining. Workers at Sea Turtle Inc., a 31-year-old nonprofit turtle conservation facility, helped nurse the turtle back to a reasonable size and weight, although having only one flipper has made it very difficult for it return to the sea.

"The wounds have healed very nicely. The problem is she doesn't swim very well," said Jeff George, curator at Sea Turtle Inc.

Since turtles like Allison can often grow to weigh about 450 pounds and live for about a century, she would not be likely to survive with only one flipper.

"She would be destined to shallow water for the rest of her life and that becomes a quality-of-life issue," George said.

In response, a group of veterinary and medical professionals have offered their assistance in building and attaching a prosthetic flipper to a small bony stump on her left rear side.

Dr. Sudarat Kiat-amnuay, a dental expert from the University of Texas, hopes to use the same kind of silicon used to make prosthetics for humans.

The technique is similar to that of creating a prosthetic nose or ear for a human patient. By using sculpting wax, she will create a mold from a dead turtle's flipper and adapt it to fit on Allison.

Although the trial flipper could be ready within a few weeks, the team is still trying to determine how to attach at. They also have to address the issue of making sure the silicon will withstand sea water.

"It will be interesting and it will be fun," Kiat-amnuay said. "If you're able to work on her, you may be able to apply it and work on more turtles."

Lucia Guillen, resident biologist and educator at Sea Turtle Inc., was skeptical of Allison's chance for survival when she first saw her. She now said she hopes that the project will be able to help injured sea turtles in the future.

"If we can do something for other turtles, then keeping her alive is worthwhile," said Guillen. "We're hoping we can accomplish something with Allison that will benefit other turtles."


Photo Caption: The Atlantic green sea turtle can often grow to weigh about 450 pounds and live for about a century. Photographer: Mak Thorpe


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