Disabled dolphin jumping again with world's first artificial fin
Thu Nov 18,12:07 PM ET
TOKYO (AFP) - Fuji, a mother dolphin that lost 75 percent of her tail due to a mysterious disease, is jumping once again with the help of what is believed to be the world's first artificial fin.
The 34-year-old dolphin held at Japan's largest aquarium in the southern island of Okinawa wears the rubber fin for about 20 minutes a day allowing her to jump and to swim at the same speed of other dolphins.
"We are very grateful. Although she can swim without the artificial fin, the speed is very slow and she certainly cannot jump without it," said Masaya Kowami, a breeder at Okinawa Churaumi Aquarium.
"Visitors have told us she looks happy," he said.
Fuji initially rejected the artificial fin, which in its current version weighs two kilograms (4.4 pounds) with a width of 48 centimeters (20 inches).
The breeders decided not to keep Fuji's fin on all day fearing that it may fall off and be eaten or destroyed by other dolphins.
Fuji was stricken by a mysterious disease causing necrosis - the death of cells - in 2002. To save her life, veterinarians had to amputate three-quarters of her tail with an electronic surgical knife.
"Her physical mobility fell sharply after the amputation. She got tired easily as we often saw her resting," Kowami said.
Weeks after the surgery, a veterinarian at the aquarium asked his friend at Bridgestone, Japan's largest tiremaker, for help.
"The most difficult part was creating the smooth texture of rubber so as not to scratch a dolphin's skin," said Bridgestone spokesman Shinichi Kobori.
Bridgestone began working on the fin in 2003, but several samples were either too heavy or loose for Fuji, which is 271 centimeters (nine feet) long and weighs 227 kilograms (500 pounds).
"Only after we created the lightest fin in August 2004, we received a call from the aquarium that Fuji finally jumped," Kobori said.
The latest fin is kept in one piece by bolts. Kowami, the aquarium worker, said putting on the artificial fin was anything but easy.
"When she saw the artificial fin for the first time, she ran away. She was so scared of the object. It took us five months to make her get used to the artificial fin. Now she is perfectly fine with it," he said.
Bridgestone said the artificial fin was given to the aquarium for free, but that it cost the company about 10 million yen (95,000 dollars).
The company has yet to receive any request for an artificial fin or leg for other animals but spokesman Kobori said Bridgestone is open to such requests.
"We make tires; we specialize in foots of sort. If we see offers, we will consider them," he said.