Loggerhead Sea Turtle Gets Artificial Flippers After Shark Attack

Toshifumi Kitamura/AFP/Getty Images.

It's tough out there for a loggerhead turtle. Yu, a 200-pound female turtle, was found badly injured in 2008, her front flippers torn off in what appeared to have been a shark attack. Animal lovers brought her to the Suma aqualife park near Kobe, Japan, where AFP reports she has now been fitted with a new set of artificial limbs.

"Similar attempts have been made to attach artificial limbs to turtles around the world," said Naoki Kamezaki, the aquarium's curator, in an interview with AFP. "Ours may be the only case in which a turtle with artificial limbs is still swimming without a problem."

The rubber flippers are attached to a black vest, which Kamezaki said was slipped over Yu's head. The aquarium staff had tried other versions that were squeezed over Yu's stumps, but apparently they were painful to her.

"We have worked hard to design the vest in a way that prevents the turtle from taking it off unwittingly," said Kamezaki. "It can flutter the limbs as the vest is soft."

Loggerhead turtles are remarkable travelers, routinely swimming 8,000 miles across the open ocean and back home again. They apparently are sensitive to very slight differences in the Earth's magnetic field, which they use for navigation.

But they are listed as an endangered species; conservationists say they are threatened by fishing nets, ships' propellers and warming ocean currents. They are capable of crossing the Atlantic or Pacific and returning to the beach where they were born - but many of those beaches are now used for development. On top of that, there is the danger of sharks, which rarely attack people but often feast on turtles.

Yu is safe at the aquarium near Kobe, where she's become a tourist attraction. Curators say they think she is about 25 years old, and could live to be 50 or more.