Sunday, March 15, 2009

Japanese conservationists to develop artificial limbs for turtle

Japanese conservationists trying to develop artificial limbs for turtle injured during a shark attack. An injured loggerhead sea turtle may be getting a new lease on life after being rescued off south western Japan, following a suspected shark attack last summer. The 20 year old female turtle, named Yu-chan, was placed in an aquarium at the Hiwasa Chelonian Museum in Minami, western Tokushima, and is soon to be fitted with prosthetic front limbs.

Yu-chan, a loggerhead sea turtle missing half of its left forelimb and one-third of its right forelimb after a shark attack. Photo Kyodo

According to Erika Akai, a researcher at the non-profit Sea Turtle Association of Japan, “special attention will be paid to ensure that the forelimbs are strong enough to allow Yu to climb up a nesting beach, thus allowing her to lay eggs”. Akai, studied behaviour of dolphins fitted with artificial tail fins in Okinawa and hopes that the same can be done for Yu.

At the moment, “Yu’s swimming capability is only at 60% of that of a healthy turtle”, says Akai “and cannot be released into the wild”. The Sea Turtle Association of Japan has set up a fund and asked Japan's largest prosthetic limb maker in western Osaka prefecture to make the artificial fins.

A spokesperson for the company, Kawamura Gishi Co. says “We are fully aware that it will be a difficult challenge, but we were moved by the passion of the association and decided to take part in the project."

In May 2009, if all goes to plan, Yu will be moved from the town of Minami to a man-made saltwater pond on reclaimed land in Kobe to test her new flippers.

There is no known successful case of artificial limbs being attached to sea turtles, which have fragile bones and use their limbs differently in water and on land but with advice from veterinarians and taking advantage of the companies experience making artificial legs for dogs, there is hope that Yu can be released into the wild.

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