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Turtle partially amputated by tiger shark thriving in its natural habitat in the Indian Ocean

Sunday Tribune logo Sunday Tribune 2023/01/11 Thobeka Ngema

Durban — Jina, the female loggerhead turtle that had both her front flippers partially amputated by a tiger shark, is cruising along the Indian Ocean coastline.

After 11 months of rehabilitation at uShaka Sea World’s turtle hospital, Jina has been making a brave journey along the north coast of KwaZulu-Natal.

The South African Association for Marine Biological Research’s (Saambr) Ann Kunz said: “Jina, the shark bite survivor is enjoying the beautiful inshore areas of the St Lucia Marine Protected Area.”

Jina is a large female loggerhead and was one of four rehabilitated sea turtles that were satellite tagged and released at Cape Vidal in December.

“Jina is a very special turtle as both her front flippers were partially amputated when she almost ended up as lunch to a tiger shark in January 2022. Luckily for her, she was picked up by Mokarran Dive Charters and brought to Saambr’s Sea Turtle Hospital at uShaka Sea World by Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife,” Kunz said.

“The turtle lost about 60% of her left front flipper and 30% of her right front flipper and we were worried about whether she would be able to adapt back in the ocean. It is common to see sea turtles with flipper amputations, but we don’t often encounter double amputations in the wild, however, Jina showed absolute determination from the start of her rehabilitation journey.

“She also had some lesions on her carapace (her hard upper shell) and had quite a heavy load of amphipods (small shrimps) hitching a ride on her back,” Kunz explained.

Jina started feeding within two days and her love of food became a great motivator for getting her strong and fit.

“We quickly realised that she had grit, was strong-willed and that she was very capable of swimming and diving with her shorter flippers. Ten months after her admission our clinical veterinarian declared her fit for life back in the ocean.

“After her release she showed us her fantastic swimming abilities from the word go, travelling down to Richards Bay, before heading back up the coast to Leven Point, just east of the northern point of the St Lucia lake. This is a fantastic area for sea turtles, it falls within a marine protected area, it is a nesting area for loggerheads and leatherbacks and offers a variety of food to food-loving turtles such as Jina.

“We could not be happier with her progress and journey back in the ocean. The satellite tag transmission data indicates that she has travelled a distance of about 270km, but if we include all her movements between Cape Vidal, Richards Bay and Leven Point, it adds up to about 700km. She also seems to prefer remaining 300 to 500 metres from the shore, possibly to avoid some tiger shark encounters again, and easier access to some tasty treats such as crabs.

“Go Jina, go!” Kunz concluded.

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