Clearwater, FL

How a Dolphin Became One of Clearwater’s Biggest Attractions

Allison Burney

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If you’ve never heard of the movie Dolphin Tale, you’re probably confused—and for good reason.

You might be wondering, what’s so special about a dolphin?

Yes, they’re fascinating creatures and fun to watch, but why all the hype?

Well, this dolphin is different for a few reasons, and while a quick search online will explain why, a visit to the Clearwater Marine Aquarium in Clearwater Beach, Florida will help you understand what all the fuss is about on a much deeper level.

Spend a few hours wandering around this marine animal hospital and rehab facility, and you’ll see for yourself what makes this place—and its main attraction, Winter the dolphin—so irresistible. I’ve now spent several days here in total on different trips over the years, and I’d still go back again.

There’s something magical and captivating about Winter, and countless others have also fallen under her spell and been charmed and inspired by her. This is why this dolphin has become known all over the world.

Winter’s Story

Winter was found tangled in the rope of a crab trap by a local fisherman in Mosquito Lagoon near Cape Canaveral in December of 2005. Just two months old at the time, she was in danger of losing her tail as the ropes had tightened and begun to cut off circulation. Rescuers knew they needed to work fast and find somewhere that could take her in, and Clearwater Marine Aquarium was that place.

Despite veterinarians, CMA staff, and volunteers keeping a close eye on her, her tail continued to deteriorate and fall off, eventually stopping just short of her spinal cord. While this meant she had a chance at survival, it also meant she’d be unable to swim properly. Without tail flukes, she had nothing to propel herself forward in the up and down motion natural to whales and dolphins. Instead, she swam by moving her body side to side, like a shark, but veterinarians knew that prolonged movement like this could damage her spine.

That’s when experts began developing a prosthetic tail that could help mitigate the problem through physical therapy. And from there, everything took off.

Spirit of a Survivor

In an interview with the Tampa Bay Times, David Yates, the former CEO of Clearwater Marine Aquarium, explained that the media coverage of Winter’s story started local and then ballooned around the world.

I had 2½ years of extensive global media about a dolphin that refused to give up. — David Yates

And that fighting spirit is what’s resonated with millions of people all over the world.

Winter has a special place in the hearts of those fighting their own battles. In particular, she has touched the lives of countless children with disabilities or with prosthetic legs of their own, as they relate to her story and find hope in her journey. She’s also been a source of inspiration for injured soldiers who’ve visited the aquarium upon their return home.

No matter what you’re struggling with, Winter’s willingness to adapt and grow and her spirit of survival is a powerful force for good. Her positive impact is infectious, leaving visitors with a renewed sense of hope and meaning.

While most dolphins in this situation wouldn’t survive, Winter adapted to her new physical form and made a complete recovery! — Clearwater Marine Aquarium

And that’s why one bottlenose dolphin has become both a movie star and a star attraction in Clearwater, Florida.

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Writer & proofreader. I love travel, reading, coffee, and exploring nature. On a mission to keep learning, growing, and enjoying this adventure we call life.

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