3D Printing a Harness for a Sea Turtle with Bubble Butt Syndrome

Bubble Butt Syndrome

Meet Charlotte, Mystic Aquarium’s Beloved Green Sea Turtle!

Charlotte was rescued in 2008 after being struck by a boat. The strike left Charlotte with paralysis in his hind flippers and trapped air in his back end. This condition, often referred to as Bubble Butt Syndrome, creates a positive buoyancy in a sea turtle’s GI tract and causes the turtle to swim in a head down position. Although Bubble Butt Syndrome is common among sea turtles, researchers have yet to determine a safe treatment for the condition. Notably so, performing surgery to remove the air pocket is not feasible due to the risks attached. Therefore, Mystic Aquarium is forced to discover an alternative solution. After remarkable success 3D printing a boot for Purps the Penguin to help her injured foot, the team at Mystic Aquarium invited us to join the Charlotte project.

3D Printing a Harness for a Sea Turtle with Bubble Butt Syndrome

Based on our discussion with Mystic Aquarium’s veterinary staff and outside experts in Bubble Butt Syndrome, we found that 3D printing a harness for Charlotte was the safest solution. To guarantee the upmost comfort and the perfect fit, we had to collect precise measurements and intricate details of his shell by way of a 3D scan. From there, we began designing a harness that is completely custom to Charlotte.

Creating a Custom 3D Printed Harness for a Sea Turtle with Bubble Butt Syndrome

As a long-term solution for Charlotte, the harness should not only be comfortable but also strong, durable, and waterproof. The latest version of the harness features two materials including Formlabs Nylon 11 CF and Oxford Performance Material’s PEKK material. By using these materials in tandem, the harness can attain a new level of strength, durability, and structure.

Another crucial component of the harness is the weight that counteracts the effects of the air pocket. At the base of the harness, there are several “inserts” that allow the veterinary staff to add and remove weights based on Charlotte’s buoyancy. In addition, the staff can shift the weights from side to side depending on the air bubble’s location. Both features allow Mystic Aquarium to adjust the harness quickly and easily on a day-to-day basis.

While this project is still underway, we hope to identify a long-term solution for Charlotte in the near future. Stay tuned for more updates!