LA JOLLA, Calif. (KGTV) - Researchers at the Birch Aquarium in La Jolla came up with a groundbreaking way to help an injured sea turtle live a long and happy life.
The loggerhead sea turtle washed ashore in New Jersey in 2013 with a hole in its shell and its two back flippers paralyzed. Initially, it went to an aquarium in South Carolina, but was deemed unable to survive in the wild.
When the turtle was transferred to the Birch Aquarium in 2014, scientists began looking for a way to help it heal.
The hole in the turtle's shell was causing spinal curving as the turtle grew. In time, that could have led to gastrointestinal problems and potential reproductive issues.
CT scans at UC San Diego's Thornton Hospital helped the researchers design a plastic brace to fill the gap in the turtle's shell. They worked with the 3-D Printing Lab at the UC San Diego Library Digital Media Lab to make it.
Last week, after three years of research and development, researchers fit the brace on the turtle. They believe it's the first time ever that 3-D printing has been used to create a turtle shell brace.
The shell is made out of a rigid white plastic and has a ratcheting plastic cable to add strength, support and pressure that can adjust as the animal grows. It also has a Velcro neoprene weight pocket to add buoyancy when the turtle sleeps.
In the past three years, the turtle has gained around 130 pounds and could eventually grow as big as 250 pounds. Eventually, she'll outgrow the brace and need a new one.
Since being put in the Aquarium's Magdalena Bay Habitat, she's become a crowd favorite. The aquarium does public feeding and training sessions with the turtle every Tuesday and Thursday at 3 p.m.