Hurt Sea Turtle Gets Plastic Flippers

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August 3, 2009—A loggerhead sea turtle seemingly injured by a shark was recently fitted with "trial" prosthetics as part of efforts to give the rare animal fully functioning flippers. Video.

© 2009 National Geographic (AP)

Unedited Transcript

Yu Chan is a 20-year-old loggerhead turtle in need of assistance. A little over a year ago she became entwined in fishermens nets in the Kii channel in Japan. Her wounds indicate shed also been attacked by a shark. Shed lost half of one forelimb, and a third of the other.

She was brought to the Sea Turtle Association of Japan, which uses a salt water pond near Kobe Airport for some of their work.

Loggerhead turtles are classified by the IUCN as an endangered species.

After a period of recuperation the plan was to release the turtle back into the wild.

But some citizens of Kobe objected, saying it would be cruel to release Yu Chan back into the wild in this condition. Without her full flippers, shed be vulnerable to predators and other hazards.

SOUNDBITE (Japanese) Kamezaki Naoki, Director, Sea Turtle Association of Japan "We were thinking about releasing Yu Chan in the usual way but some of Kobe's residents objected and said that it would be cruel to release a turtle that had lost its flippers. And they were right. "

A fund was set up to help finance Yu Chan's recovery.

The Sea Turtle Association consulted Japan's largest prosthetic limb manufacturer, Kawamura Gishi and the company began work on prosthetic limbs for the turtle.

Made from a soft plastic called polypropylene, and stainless steel supports, the first prototype flippers were completed for a trial this summer.

The company makes clear that the flippers are still very much in the development stage.

SOUNDBITE (Japanese) Matsuda Yasushi, Kawamura Gishi Ltd. "We are not expecting to get everything right first time. As you can see there are several belts on the upper part of the flipper and our first priority is to make sure that we can make a secure attachment that will definitely hold. "

Ultimately they are intending to create a limb made of strengthened fiber and silicon that will be surgically attached to the turtle's body.

The trial on June 20th focused on the problem of securely attaching the prosthetic limbs to the upper section of Yu Chan's remaining flippers.

But the team encountered difficulty in securing the left flipper, which fell off on several occasions.

SOUNDBITE (Japanese) Matsuda Yasushi, Kawamura Gishi Ltd. "Ultimately attachment of the fin will not be down to us but to a veterinary surgeon who will attach the artificial flippers in a surgical operation. If we can take the project that far the problems raised by sand and water will no longer be an issue."

The project team estimates that it will be a number of years before the goal can be realized.

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