My daughter’s absolute favorite movie is Dolphin Tale, so much so that we had to buy her a second copy and my husband and I have a third copy ready for when she wears out this one. Since watching it the first time, she is convinced that she wants to be a veterinarian and she wants to work with marine animals. We’ll see how long that lasts since she’s only six, but when we took her to Walt Disney World for her birthday last summer, it seemed appropriate to take her to the Clearwater Marine Aquarium to see Winter.
If you haven’t seen the movie, Winter was found beached when she was three years old, wrapped in the line from a crab trap. She was rescued and taken to CMA for treatment but, unfortunately, the damage was extensive and her tail had to be amputated in order to save her life. The only way for her to swim after that was to move her tail from side to side instead of up and down like a dolphin normally does which damaged her spine. From there, the vets at CMA worked with a prosthetics company to make Winter a tail that she’d be able to use to help heal her spine and prevent further injury. Since the movie, people flock to the Aquarium every day to visit Winter and her friends.
In addition to Winter, CMA takes in animals that are injured and rehabilitate them. If the animal is able to be released back into the wild, they do so and if not, they care for them or send them somewhere else. Winter (obviously) cannot be released back into the wild and is a permanent resident of CMA. Until last year, she lived with Panama, who was deaf and could no longer survive on her own in the ocean. She passed away last spring and Winter now lives with Hope, who was also rescued as a baby. Because Hope was raised by people and was not taught to hunt for herself, she also will remain at CMA and live with Winter. (Their story will be released in theaters in September.)
In addition to the dolphins, CMA hosts sea turtles, otters, stingrays, sharks, pelicans, and a moray eel. They are all permanent residents due to various injuries, the majority of which were caused by people, and there are others that are just passing through. Tickets to visit can be purchased in advance or you can purchase them at the door. As you walk through the aquarium, there are volunteers that are there to answer any questions you might have, and there are some that have some of Winters old tails to explain about it or allow the kids to hold it.
CMA presents various shows throughout the day to educate visitors about the various residents and to let the dolphins show off. There is also a hands on exhibit with horseshoe crabs and starfish and there are tours and photo opportunities throughout the day that require advance reservations because of the popularity of Winter. There is also a second site that is accessible by boat, trolley, or you can drive over yourself. It’s included in your admission and is a small museum dedicated to the making of Dolphin Tale and a Hurricane Experience Exhibit.
CMA is located right on the coast of Florida in Clearwater near the beaches and hotels of the downtown area. It is a short hour and a half drive from Orlando and we felt that it was well worth the trip. We were able to get through the aquarium and the Dolphin Tale Adventure in a few hours on the day we went home. The experience was one my daughter won’t soon forget and she still tells everyone that will listen that she got to go see Winter. If you have the chance to visit, I would definitely recommend it if for no other reason than to see an amazing dolphin who survived despite the obstacles thrown in her path. If you can’t get to Clearwater anytime soon, but would still like to see Winter, check out the webcam at the CMA website.