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Sea Turtle Amputee Swims Again with Jet-Like Prosthetic Fin

May 17, 2014 10:48 AM EDT
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An injured sea turtle whose two left flippers had to be amputated is swimming again thanks to a new prosthetic fin designed by an Israeli team and modeled after the wings of a US fighter jet.

The green turtle, named "Hofesh" (the Hebrew word for "freedom"), was caught in a fishing net off Israel's Mediterranean coast in early 2009, The Associated Press reported.

Badly injured, his two left flippers had to be amputated, leaving him with a pair of stumps that made swimming difficult.

Yaniv Levy, director of Israel's Sea Turtle Rescue Center, said his team first tried fitting Hofesh with a diver's fin, but the device wasn't much help and made him accidentally bump into things while swimming.

It was Shlomi Gez, an industrial design student at Jerusalem's Hadassah College, who came up with the ingenious design. Reading about Hofesh's struggles on the Internet, Gez was compelled to help the animal. He came up with a prosthetic based on a fish's dorsal fin, which offered some improvement; but, Hofesh still had trouble breathing and rising to the surface.

Inspiration struck Gez via the Lockheed Martin Corp.'s F-22 Raptor warplane. The would-be successful device, resembling the aircraft's wings, was strapped onto Hofesh's back.

"I discovered it worked better than one fin on the back," Gez explained. "With two fins, he keeps relatively balanced, even above the water."

Unfortunately, even with this innovation, Hofesh will never be able to return to the wild.

For now, Hofesh is swimming again in a tank with a blind female companion named Tsurit. Both sea turtles are about 20 to 25 years old - close to sexual maturity - and researchers hope that they can contribute to their endangered species by mating.

"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," he added.

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