When an turtle gets accidentally entangled in fishing nets, more often than not, the animal injures its flippers, the limbs that help the turtle swim. This means, that the turtle cannot move in the ocean waters to find food nor can it defend itself from a predator. The injury can easily lead to the death of the turtle. But now, one veterinary doctor from India is giving a new lease of life to these injured turtles through his self invented prosthetic flippers named ‘Dahanu flippers’.
The prosthetic limbs have been invented by Dr Dinesh Vihnerkar a veterinarian who volunteers at the Wildlife Conservation and Animal Welfare Association (WCAWA) at Dahanu, 135km north of Mumbai. These flippers are made of fiberglass and took the doctor 2 months to conceptualise and create.
“Just like the Jaipur Foot for human stumps, we have also invented the “Dahanu Flipper” for turtles. We have named it ‘Dahanu Flipper’ as it was developed here,” said Dr Vihnerkar.
Freedom To Swim
The quest to help injured turtles began last year when a turtle was brought to the Injured Sea Turtle & Wildlife Transit Centre in Dahanu during monsoon last year. The turtle was missing its left flipper and had a 4 inch stump for the right one.
Dr. Vihnerkar could see the frustration of the turtle. He says, the injured turtle was trying desperately to move with what it had but could not.
“An injured Olive Ridley turtle can survive on three flippers. The turtle swimming pivots on the front two flippers. If they get amputated, the turtle can neither swim nor walk,” he said.
When the turtles injuries healed, the vet measured the stumps and made it wear plastic flippers but he was skeptical as the body has a habit of rejecting any foreign object that is attached to living tissues and cells.
“In this case, it was almost a miracle,” said Vinherkar. “Within an hour of attaching the artificial flipper, this turtle started inching ahead. We were surprised at how quickly she had adapted.”
The stumps and muscles of the turtle had easily adjusted to this new artificial flipper and a check up after four days showed that there were no fresh injuries due to the friction created on the joints.
Happy with the results, the doctor set out to improvise on his prosthetic flipper version and created new ones using fiber glass.
“Fibre plastic does not decay or rot in water. So, it will not harm the turtle when it is released in a water body . Such crippled turtles cannot be released into sea,” he added.
Since the success of this first of its kind operation, the doctor has fixed these prosthetic Dahanu flippers to more turtles at the centre. He also hopes that the forest department approves of them so that more such injured turtles can be given a chance to swim again.
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