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News / March 3, 2008

Dental implant for first artificial turtle flipper

by Guy Hiscott

An endangered type of sea turtle is to be fitted with a prosthetic flipper, attached via a dental implant.

Allison, an Atlantic green sea turtle, lost three of her flippers in a shark attack, leaving her with just her right front flipper that can only propel her to the left.

But her permanent circling may be about to end as she has been lined up to be fitted with a prosthetic flipper attached via a dental bone implant. 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 tank at Sea Turtle, Inc, a research and conservation centre, which rehabilitates injured sea turtles, among other things.

The implant will go where her lower left flipper once was. However, 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.

However, it will enable the 14-pound (6kg) 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 is hoped to work on Allison because the size of the dental implant ranges from 2mm to 6mm and the diameter of her bone is about 10mm.

The bone will be drilled into and the implant placed. It will then be left to integrate for a few months and if it integrates then the flipper will be added.

The prosthetic appendage will 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.