Featured Image Credit: Port Aransas South Jetty
By Kira Krall
Kemp’s Ridley sea turtles are the most endangered species of marine turtle. Lola the Kemp’s Ridley was admitted to an animal rehab facility near Corpus Christi, Texas with multiple bite wounds from predatory fish and with her right flipper entangled in marine debris. Her injuries were so bad, hospital staff had to amputate her entire flipper to ensure her survival.
She was moved from Texas and bounced around between a few aquariums and rehab facilities in Florida before settling in to the Key West aquarium in 2008. Without a flipper, she spent her days weakly swimming in circles until three recent engineering graduates from Worcester Polytechnic institute developed Lola’s saving grace.
Iok Wong, Samantha Varela, and Vivian Liang used their specialized skills to create an effective and low-cost prosthetic turtle flipper. Wong tested the hydrodynamics, Varela headed up design and attachment mechanisms, and Liang analyzed the physics to ensure the flipper would generate enough force for Lola. Once her brand new 3-d printed silicone flipper was attached to her partial limb, Lola immediately began gliding through the water column with ease just like a turtle should. Watch a video about Lola and her prosthetic flipper below!
Lola represents a group of amputee turtles found around the world. Loss of limb can make it difficult for a turtle to avoid predators or chase after prey. The remaining limbs have to work much harder to compensate for the lost flipper and this added stress can decrease their life expectancy. Female turtles are especially at a disadvantage; crawling onto the beach to lay a nest is a titanic task to begin with, and doing it while missing a flipper is next to impossible.
Flipper damage is the most common sea turtle injury. The work of Wong, Varela, Liang, and many others around the world will help amputated and rehabilitating turtles live a normal life. More turtles means a healthier population, and considering all seven species are endangered, we need every turtle now more than ever.