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Hawksbill turtle swims on despite a missing flipper

Sea turtles evolved alongside dinosaurs. Over millions of years, and despite the man-made threats they face today, they have proven themselves survivors.

Oone hawksbill turtle filmed in Cayman’s waters shows the resilience of these ancient reptiles, living an apparently normal life with a missing limb.

A close encounter with a sea turtle can be an unforgettable experience.

This hawksbill came face-to-face with Cayman 27 reporter Joe Avary’s underwater camera on Grand Cayman’s west side. It tolerated the bright lights briefly before swimming away, revealing evidence of a past traumatic injury – a missing rear left flipper.

“It is rare to see amputated limbs, but it does occur,” said Department of Environment Research Officer Janice Blumenthal. “If turtles are able to survive this kind of traumatic injury, then they do manage quite well with swimming with the loss of a limb.”

Ms. Blumenthal said sea turtles use their front flippers for propulsion and the back flippers as rudders, but she said a missing rear flipper can potentially pose problems for nesting females.

“The rear flippers are used to construct an egg chamber, so they very delicately scoop away the sand to make a chamber for the eggs, so if the rear flippers are missing, this could cause a problem for a female turtle laying her eggs,” she explained.

As for how this turtle lost its limb, Ms. Blumenthal can only speculate.

“It’s difficult to determine the cause of different types of flipper amputation injuries, they can be caused by predators at any stage of the turtle’s development,” she said. “We’ve seen boat strikes causing very traumatic injuries to turtles including the shell and the flippers, and fishing line entanglement is one of the most serious threats.”

She told Cayman 27 this turtle’s apparent recovery from traumatic injury shows the species’ resilience.

“They can survive what would seem like fatal injuries, however, it can be incredibly helpful to have veterinary treatment and care for a turtle that has recently suffered a traumatic injury,” said Ms. Blumenthal.

The Department of Environment said if you encounter a turtle with evidence of a recent injury, report it to the DOE turtle hotline at 938-NEST

About the author

Joe Avary

Joe Avary

Joe Avary has been with Cayman 27 since 2014. He brings 20 years in television experience to the job, working hard every day to bring the people of Cayman stories that inform the public and make a difference in the community. Joe hopes his love for the Cayman Islands shines through in his informative and entertaining weather reports. If you have a story idea for Joe or just want to say hello, call him at 324-2141 or send an email to

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