Disabled Sea Turtle Gets 27th Pair of Artificial Fins

After sharks ripped off her front limbs, Yu received a pair of artificial rubber flippers to help her swim

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TOSHIFUMI KITAMURA / AFP/Getty Images

Yu the turtle has surmounted her latest hurdle.

Life hasn’t been easy for for the 25-year-old loggerhead turtle. In 2008, her front fins were torn off in a shark attack; after being caught up in a fishing net, Yu was sent to Suma Aqualife Park in western Japan, according to Agence France-Presse.

After that, Yu has been on a difficult journey toward recovery. Scientists have been trying to restore her swimming ability by designing turtle-specific high-tech prosthetic flippers. On Feb 12, the 212-pound turtle donned her latest one – her 27th pair, in fact — in front of an excited crowd at the aqualife park, AFP reported.

(More: Endangered Animals: Better Looking, Better Protected?)

A video from ITN News showed how the rubber limbs were attached to a vest slipped over Yu’s head. The turtle appeared to be quite nonchalant during the process.

She was then released into water and waggled her new fins successfully.

“Similar attempts have been made to attach artificial limbs to turtles around the world. But we have not heard if they went well,” the aquarium’s curator, Naoki Kamezaki, told AFP. “Ours may be the only case in which a turtle with artificial limbs is still swimming without a problem.”

Zoo staff members have tried to squeeze earlier versions of those limbs onto Yu’s stumps but they turned out to be too painful for the turtle.

Karin Hayashi, one of the scientists who helped to build Yu’s new fins, told National Geographic that an increasing number of injured animals are getting prosthetic limbs. In 2004, a dolphin at an aquarium in southern Japan became the first in the world to get a rubber tail fin, after it lost its own due to illness.

As for Yu, her journey isn’t over yet. Hayashi said the animal’s swim speed hasn’t been improved with the artificial fins because of the drag produced from the jacket. She said the team was working on a new method to attach Yu’s fins.

(More: The Wild World of Animal Prostheses)

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