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Loggerhead Sea Turtle Gets 3D Printed Shell Brace

December 11, 2017



A juvenile loggerhead sea turtle (Caretta caretta) that was discovered injured in a New Jersey power plant has a second chance at life thanks to 3D printer technology that enabled veterinarians to patch her back up.

3-d rendering of turtle shell brace

Digital Media Lab at UC San Diego’s Geisel Library

A 3D rendering of the brace that was attached to an injured loggerhead turtle.
 

The turtle, rescued from the plant in 2013, had a gaping hole in the bottom right part of her shell, an abnormal curve in her spine and paralysis of her back flippers that doctors speculate was due to trauma she had experienced before she was rescued. She had just weighed 74.5 pounds at the time she was brought to the Birch Aquarium at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California, San Diego and has since gained more than 55 pounds. Scripps teamed up with the Digital Media Lab at UC San Diego’s Geisel Library to design and build what they believe is the first 3D printed brace for a sea turtle shell. The brace is designed to prevent the shell from growing downward, and to promote normal growth as she grows.

The brace is designed to prevent the shell from growing downward and to help promote normal growth.

Birch Aquarium at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California, San Diego

The brace is designed to prevent the shell from growing downward and to help promote normal growth.
 

“That growth has really exacerbated her condition. Without our intervention, the sea turtle could have gastro-intestinal and urogenital systems complications,” Jenn Nero Moffatt, senior director of animal care, science and conservation for the aquarium said in a statement released by the university. “We teamed up with the Digital Media Lab at Geisel Library to create a brace that will prevent the shell from curving further downward and will promote more normal growth. It’s our goal to prevent further complications and keep her as healthy and happy as possible.” 


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A Ct scan was taken of the turtle’s shell and it was combined with the lab’s 3D scanning techniques to design a brace that is a perfect fit for the turtle’s shell. The brace is constructed of stiff plastic along with a racheting plastic cable that strengthens and supports the brace and will continue to do so as the turtle grows. A weight pocket made of velcro is also attached to provide the turtle with neutral buoyancy when she is at rest. She will eventually outgrow the brace and will be fit for a new one. Since she has no use of her rear flippers she will spend the rest of her days at the aquarium.

“This is truly an ocean rehabilitation success story,” said Moffatt. “As a member of the AZA, Birch Aquarium is committed to conserving, rehabilitating and protecting  animals in threat of extinction.  It’s exciting that we are able to use technology in this unique way so our Loggerhead Sea Turtle can continue her role as ambassador for ocean conservation, greeting more than 450,000 visitors each year.”  

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