Endangered Turtle Gets Prosthetic Fin


Stephen Luntz

Stephen has a science degree with a major in physics, an arts degree with majors in English Literature and History and Philosophy of Science and a Graduate Diploma in Science Communication.

Freelance Writer

965 Endangered Turtle Gets Prosthetic Fin
AP Photo/Ariel Schalit. A new fighter jet inspired fin allows Hofesh the injured turtle to swim in comfort
Turtles and fighter jets seldom have a lot in common, but one endangered sea turtle has been given a new lease of life with a prosthesis based on a Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptor.
Green sea turtles (Chelonia mydas) are gentle giants of the sea, feeding mostly on seagrasses in shallow lagoons and growing to 190kg. However, they have been badly affected by overharvesting and ocean pollution and are classified as endangered by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature. So when one was caught in fishing nets off Israel's Mediterranean coast much effort went into saving it.
The turtle, named Hofesh, (meaning freedom) had both its front and hind left flippers so badly damaged they had to be amputated. According to Yanic Levy, director of Israel's Sea Turtle Rescue Center there was no possibility of returning Hofesh to the wild. However, as a male approaching maturity the center hoped to breed him with a blind female named Tsurit. 
To do that, however, it was important to help him swim a bit better, even in tanks with no predators.
The Center tried fitting Hofesh with a diver's fin, but it didn't work very well. Shlomi Gez, an industrial design student at Hadassah College read about Hofesh's state and designed a contraption based on fishes' dorsal fins. This helped a little, but Hofesh still had trouble making his way to the surface to breath.
So Gez looked elsewhere for inspiration, settling on the twin fins of the Raptor. Hofesh may not be a creature with a need for speed, but the device did the trick. "I discovered it worked better than one fin on the back," Gez explained. "With two fins, he keeps relatively balanced, even above the water."
Now that Hofesh doesn't struggle for oxygen it is hoped that he and Tsurit will start a slow romance. "We have great plans for this guy," Levy said. "They will never go back to the wild, but their offspring will be released the minute they hatch and go immediately into the sea and live normally in the wild." It is hoped  their offspring will help repopulate the turtle population of the eastern Mediterranean.
Fin fitting in process
The fighter plane whose fin inspired Shlomi Gez's design
 Time for some snaps.
The fin doesn't obstruct Hofesh even when at the surface.
[All turtle images credited to: AP/Ariel Schalit]