Influence of hull configuration and vessel propulsion systems on sea turtle shell injuries
Spurlock, Chad M.
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Loggerhead sea turtles in coastal waters often sustain injuries from vessel impacts. The influences of vessel hull configuration and propulsion system type on the incidence and severity of wounds in turtle/vessel interaction were investigated. Full-scale field tests using two vessels with deep-vee hulls were performed. An artificial carapace with a sandwich composite design of a closed-cell polyurethane foam core with faces constructed of polyester resin infused with glass microspheres was developed. As a basis for comparison, a number of cold-stunned green turtle carcasses were also used in the field experiments. Two vessels, a 5.4 m boat with an inboard jet-drive engine and a 7.3 m boat with an outboard 4-bladed propeller, were operated at planing speed, 40 km/h. The field test results revealed similar patterns and severity of injuries between the synthetic turtles and the green turtle carcasses. Statistical analysis of the field test results indicated the influence of hull type alone on the severity of turtle damage was minimal, and none of the tests conducted using a jet drive engine resulted in injuries to the shell that would be considered lethal, regardless of the vessel hull type, speed, or the animal's depth in the water at impact. Conversely, injuries occurring as a result of propeller and/or skeg impact at planing speed were always classified as fatal. A finite element analysis of the artificial turtle was performed to determine the force at which a carapace fractures from hull impact alone. The results of the finite element analysis suggest that hull impacts of common recreational jet-propulsion vessels are unlikely to cause lethal carapace fractures in loggerhead sea turtles.