SOUTH PADRE ISLAND, Texas (Reuters Life!) - Allison is forever going in circles.
That’s because she is a green sea turtle who lost three of her flippers to a shark attack, leaving her with just her right front flipper that can only propel her to the left.
But her permanent spiral may soon end as she has been lined up to be fitted with a prosthetic flipper attached via a dental bone implant — a turtle first. The other option would be an external strap-on device.
She was rescued in 2005 on the sub-tropical shores of South Padre Island on the Texas Gulf coast and now resides in a small tank at Sea Turtle, Inc, a research and conservation center which among other things rehabilitates injured sea turtles.
“She’s going to be like a pirate with a peg leg,” Adrienne McCracken, an assistant at Sea Turtle, Inc, told some wide-eyed children visiting the center as Allison made her rounds in her tank.
The implant will go where her lower left flipper once was and even if it is successful she will still not be released back into the wild as the flipper will have to be replaced periodically and enlarged as she grows.
But it will enable the 14 pound (6 kg) turtle to swim in a deeper tank without drowning.
“If it is successful she could be in deep water at an aquarium and serve as an ambassador for endangered sea turtles,” said Sea Turtle, Inc curator Jeff George.
The dental implant will be the work of Dr. Sudarat Kiat-Amnuay, an assistant professor at The University of Texas Dental Branch at Houston.
“It might work on Allison because the size of the dental implant ranges from 2 mm to 6 mm and the diameter of her bone is about 10 mm,” Kiat-Amnuay told Reuters by phone.
“We are going to drill into the bone and then place the implant and let it integrate for a few months and if it integrates then we can add the flipper,” she said.
George said the prosthetic appendage would be made from an imprint of a flipper of a dead turtle of a similar size.
The green sea turtle is listed as endangered by the World Conservation union’s Red List of Threatened Species.
Editing by Paul Casciato