Dizzy’s a dilemma
A juvenile turtle with a flipper torn off by a shark is causing an ethical debate at the country’s premier marine park.
Dizzy, as she has been dubbed, goes on to public display at Kelly Tarlton’s Underwater World in Auckland this week after nine months of recovery in a treatment tank behind the scenes.
The green turtle, a threatened species, was found by fishermen on a beach at Great Barrier Island in January with just a stump where her right front flipper should have been.
Kelly Tarlton’s curator Andrew Christie says she was most likely attacked by a tiger shark, compounded by infection.
“When she came to us she was in a pretty bad shape,” says Mr Christie.
Now staff are wrestling with whether to give her a prosthetic flipper.
Earlier this year Winter, a three-month-old bottle nosed dolphin, caused a sensation when Florida’s Clearwater Marine Aquarium attached a prosthetic tail.
“We are sort of debating whether it will be a good chance for her,” says Mr Christie.
“There’s disadvantages with that, because these animals swim thousands and thousands of kilometres around the ocean you know. They’ll travel potentially up to 100 years round our oceans. The prosthetic limb might not last that long.”
If the prosthetic became damaged it would be impossible to recover Dizzy and repair it.
Another option was to keep Dizzy at Kelly Tarlton’s. But again it raised ethical questions.
She is estimated at 10 years old, weighs around 9kg and measures 40cm across her shell.
At this age green turtles are migratory and her instinct would be to swim into the Pacific.
The turtle species is tropical and a rarity in New Zealand waters, so Dizzy was well out of her range.
They can live for up to 150 years and grow to 1.5 metres across.
Adult turtles without flippers are not unusual, but there are worries that at her age and with such a long haul ahead of her, lacking a flipper could be a fatal disadvantage.
“We want to do the best thing for this turtle. Each one is an individual to us.
“They become close family friends and we want to do what’s right for her,” says Mr Christie.
“At this stage we are leaning towards letting her go.”
International experts had been consulted and the consensus is to release her.
But in the meantime she will be transferred to a public viewing tank until she puts on more weight and regains her strength.
If released, it will be in January or February. • To see a video of Dizzy go to www.stuff.co.nz.
Ethical debate: Kelly Tarlton’s curator Andrew Christie with Dizzy the one-flippered turtle.
Feeding time: Dizzy has a snack while she rehabilitates at Kelly Tarlton’s Underwater World.