March 12, 2005

Dolphin With First Artificial Fin Makes a Splash

TOKYO (AFP) -- A dolphin, equipped with what is believed to be the world's first artificial fin, demonstrated her swimming and jumping skills to celebrate her recovery at a Japanese aquarium.

The dolphin, named Fuji, carried a message in a case with her mouth, splashed the water with a giant jump and climbed onto a stage in front of 750 spectators at the Churaumi Aquarium on the sub-tropical island of Okinawa.

"She waved her rubber fin a good-bye at the end of the 20-minute demonstration in an event to mark her recovery," Miki Yoshido, the aquarium's director, told AFP by telephone.

Fuji, estimated to be 34 years old, lost 75 percent of her tail fin due to a mysterious disease in late 2002.

She wears the rubber, which weighs two kilograms (4.4 pounds) with a width of 48 centimeters (20 inches), for about 20 minutes a day allowing her to jump and swim at the same speed of other dolphins.

Fuji, 271 centimeters (nine feet) long and weighs 227 kilograms (500 pounds), can swim without the artificial fin, which is attached to her body with bolts, but her speed is very slow and she is unable to jump without it.

Fuji was stricken by a mysterious disease causing necrosis, the death of cells. To save her life, veterinarians had to amputate three-quarters of her tail with an electronic surgical knife.

Weeks after the surgery, a veterinarian at the aquarium asked his friend at Bridgestone, Japan's largest tiremaker, for help.

Bridgestone spent about two years developing the artificial fin that can endure the pressure of water in jumping.

The most difficult part was creating the smooth texture of rubber so as not to scratch a dolphin's skin, according to Bridgestone spokesman Shinichi Kobori.

The artificial fin was given to the aquarium for free but it cost the company about 10 million yen (95,000 dollars).


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