Monday, August 27, 2007

The Little Dolphin That Could

"The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated." - Ghandi

What a great quote. It's funny how in return, the animals will treat us well. Here's some snipets to this amazing "tail" I read about in the Freep yesterday.

About Winter (dolphin pictured)
Winter lives at the Clearwater Marine Aquarium, a nonprofit marine animal-rescue center in Clearwater, Florida.
She was a frail, dehydrated 3-month-old when she came to the hospital in December 2005. A fisherman had found her tangled in the buoy line of a crab trap in Indian River Lagoon near Cape Canaveral. The line cut off the blood supply to her tail, and it slowly fell off like shreds of paper as the aquarium team worked to save her life. Both Winter's tail flukes and peduncle, a wrist-like joint that allows her tail to move up and down, were lost.

Winter learned how to swim without her tail, which is used for propulsion -- amazing her handlers with a unique combination of moves that resemble an alligator's undulating swimming style and a shark's side-to-side tail swipes. Winter uses her flippers, normally employed for steering and braking, to get moving.
Enter prosthetic specialist Kevin Carroll who worked to re-create a tail for Winter.

Amid concentrating on Winter's unique situation, lessons were also learned that will benefit human amputees. For example, Carroll found that the gel sleeve he developed to cling to what's left of 18-month-old Winter's tail without irritating her sensitive skin also soothed a painful prosthesis for Air Force Senior Airman Brian Kolfage, who lost both legs and his right hand in a 2004 mortar attack in Iraq. The sleeve sticks to Winter's tail with suction the same way a rubber surgical glove grips a human hand.

Carroll, who like the others on Winter's team volunteers his time and resources, began by brainstorming elaborate vacuum attachments, then settled on the simple silicone gel sleeve.

Handlers slide the sleeve over Winter's stump and move her tail up and down, teaching her how to swim like a normal dolphin when the prosthesis is attached.

After rescuing sea turtles a few years ago on an Alternative Break, I've learned the importance animals have -- not only to our food chain, but to our overall quality-of-life. Lesson for all: report the cruel Michael Vicks of the world, commend the people that help our animals to survive and take time each day to appreciate our earth's creatures that don't have their own voice to be heard.

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