Life is hard in the oceans, but when you’re an endangered species, life is even harder. Yu the turtle was captured in a Japanese fishing net off the island of Shinkoku in 2008. When she was reeled in, the fishermen discovered that she was missing both her front flippers after a brutal fight with a shark. Rather than throw her back in and let her die, the fishermen took her to shore, where she was rushed to Kobe’s Suma Aqualife Park and vets rushed to save her life. Now, the staff at Suma are harboring a different dream for the mangled turtle. They have fitted Yu the loggerhead turtle with artificial flippers in the hopes of giving her a fresh start at life.
“She was in a really bad way. More than half her fins were gone and she was bleeding, her body covered with shark bites,” said Naoki Kamezaki, the park’s director general. “There have been times I wanted to give up and just fix her up the best we can and throw her back in. Then if luck’s on her side she’ll be fine, if not, she’ll get eaten and that’s just life. The way of nature, I suppose.” However, Kamezaki is hopeful for Yu’s future in his heart of hearts: “My dream for her is that one day she can use her prosthetic fins to swim to the surface, walk about, and dig a proper hole to lay her eggs in. When her children hatch, well, I just feel that would make all the trauma in her life worthwhile.”
The first trials of the artificial limbs caused Yu nothing but pain, and an early test of her latest flippers showed one fin slipping out of the prosthesis, but one side remained intact. Given the multiple setbacks, this is good news. Now if Suma can get the money together, they’ll keep working on the prosthetic flippers and maybe Yu has an outside chance of swimming and playing like all the other turtles in her tank. Maybe one day they can build her real flippers out of artificial flesh, but until then, just getting her swimming comfortably will be a big deal.
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