TOKUSHIMA – A nonprofit group is leading attempts to develop artificial limbs for a loggerhead sea turtle.
The 68-kg turtle, named Yu-chan, is believed to be female and around 20 years old.
When it was found trapped last June in a fishing net in the Kii Channel between Honshu and Shikoku, it was missing half of its left forelimb and one-third of its right forelimb, with shark teeth marks all over its body.
Yu-chan was taken to the Hiwasa Chelonian Museum in Minami, Tokushima Prefecture, where it has been looked after.
Because the turtle can only swim at about 60 percent of its original ability, the Sea Turtle Association of Japan came up with the idea of giving it artificial limbs to help it survive once it is released back into the wild.
The group knows it will be a challenge: 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.
“By promoting development of prosthetic devices, we want to apply them to other animals as well,” said Erika Akai, a 27-year-old researcher at the association who has studied behavior of dolphins fitted with artificial tail fins in Okinawa.
According to the plan, the turtle will be moved in May from the town of Minami to a man-made saltwater pond on reclaimed land in Kobe.
In the meantime, Kawamura Gishi Co., a prosthetics maker based in Daito, Osaka Prefecture, will start making artificial fins with advice from veterinarians, taking advantage of its experience making artificial legs for dogs.
The Sea Turtle Association of Japan is based in Hirakata, Osaka Prefecture.