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Fake Flipper for Green Sea Turtle

National Geographic

A three-year-old green sea turtle with only one flipper may be the first sea turtle to be fitted with a prosthetic appendage.  The turtle was found in 2005 with fresh predator wounds, probably froma shark, said Jeff George, a curator at Sea Turtle, Inc., a South PadreIsland, Texas-based turtle rescue organization.

The University of Texas Dental Branch in Houston is molding theartificial flipper, experimenting with different types of silicon todetermine which has the most appropriate density, George said. 

The flipper may have to be replaced every five or ten years, depending on how it is attached to the growing turtle, he said.

Some green sea turtles are believed to live well over a hundred years in the wild, and they grow slowly.

Named Allison, the turtle currently weighs 18 pounds (8 kilograms), andshe could grow to 550 pounds (250 kilograms), George said. Her keeperswill be able to control her growth rate, to some extent, by limiting orincreasing her food.

Other marine animals have worn prostheses successfully. For example, adolphin in Japan was outfitted with an artificial tailfin, according toscientists at Okinawa Churaumi Aquarium who have made improvements tothe fin since the first model was attached in 2003.

George said a mold will be taken of Allison’s stub in the next fewweeks, and he expects the prosthetic flipper will be attached by springor summer.

Sara-Lise Haith
Sara-Lise Haith
Sara-Lise is the former News Editor for She is based in Dubai.