Japanese Sea Turtle Gets Prosthetic Flippers

By Sean Kane email: , Feb 15, 2013 04:44 PM EST
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A loggerhead turtle in Japan has received two new, prosthetic flippers. 

"Similar attempts have been made to attach artificial limbs to turtles around the world. But we have not heard if they went well," said Naoki Kamezaki, curator at Suma Aqualife Park near Kobe, Japan. "Ours may be the only case in which a turtle with artificial limbs is still swimming without a problem."

Yu, the 25-year-old female loggerhead, is alleged to have lost her front flippers in a shark attack, which left only one third of her right fin and half of her left fin. She weighs 212 pounds and was found in a fisherman's net and sent to the Suma Park in mid-2008. Her shell is 32 inches long. 

The prosthetic flippers are made of rubber and attached to a black vest that fits over Yu. These are the 27th pair of prosthetic flippers the aquarium has developed for her. "We have worked hard to design the vest in a way that prevents the turtle from taking it off unwittingly," Kamezaki told AFP. "It can flutter the limbs as the vest is soft." The other versions of the limbs were mounted into the limb stumps, but were abandoned because they were painful for the turtle.

The staff at the aquarium began developing the artificial limbs in 2008, because Yu could only swim at 60 percent of a normal turtle's speed.

In a funny coincidence, sea turtle expert Kamezaki's surname means "turtle cape" in Japanese.

Yu is not the only aquatic animal given a new lease on life with a prosthetic limb. In 2004, an aquarium in Okinawa, Japan developed a prosthetic flipper for a dolphin that lost its tail to illness.

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