Humanitarian Action: Amputee Sea Turtle Receives 3D-Printed Prosthetic Flipper from WPI Students


by Samantha Hartery




An endangered sea turtle will be able to swim comfortably again thanks to a team of college students.


Students at Worcester Polytechnic Institute assisted with the development of a prosthetic flipper in hopes of saving even more injured sea turtles in the future.

Using 3D printing, the students created the first ever “hydrodynamic biomimetic” flipper for a Kemp’s ridley sea turtle named “Lola.”

Lola lost her flipper over a decade ago after she became severely entangled in some discarded fishing line. She was rehabilitated and released, but she stranded again only two days later. Because of her missing flipper, she tends to swim in circles and has difficulty feeding. As a result, she has remained an ambassador for her species at aquariums where she can be cared for daily.

Douglas Mader, a veterinarian at Key West Aquarium, told CBS: “Flipper damage is the most common injury in sea turtles and, unfortunately, we see it all the time. But with the technology the WPI students developed, this new flipper design will allow this sea turtle, Lola, and other injured turtles to be rehabilitated and live a more normal life. That’s important for the species, especially when the injured turtle is of breeding age.”

The students, Samantha Varela and Vivian Liang, tested a variety of flipper designs for their senior capstone project before contacting Key West Aquarium with their idea. Each flipper shape was tested inside a wind tunnel. They finally settled on Lola’s unique biomimetic flipper design. (Biomimetic objects mimic how normal biochemical processes work.)

Once finalized, Varela and Liang traveled to Florida to fit Lola with her new flipper. Apparently, she started using it immediately and was finally able to swim normally around her tank.

The students said, “Our work focused on Lola but we hope our partners at Key West Aquarium and other rescue centers will use our design to help other turtles rebound after similar injuries, which may help sustain the population of Kemp’s ridley sea turtles.”

Kemp’s ridley sea turtles are the rarest of the sea turtles and are critically endangered, with only 1,000 nesting females remaining on the planet.

Bravo, ladies!

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