By Marcia Biggs
Soon after the feature film Dolphin Tale was released nationwide in 2011, Clearwater Marine Aquarium (CMA) realized they had a major movie star on their hands. Winter had been found six years earlier stranded and entangled in a crab trap line, which cut off circulation to her tail flukes. She was transported to the aquarium for treatment, however, her tail could not be saved. Dolphin Tale is Winter’s story of recovery and rehabilitation.
Winter played herself in Dolphin Tale, alongside Hollywood stars Morgan Freeman, Ashley Judd, Harry Connick, Jr. and Kris Kristofferson. It was not long before emails and letters came flooding in. Families from around the world arrived at the aquarium—many with children who had likewise lost limbs or suffered from debilitating diseases that left them in wheelchairs. Winter’s tale was their tale.
Just minutes from CMA in downtown Clearwater, Winter’s Dolphin Tale Adventure is a 32,000-square-foot attraction that pays tribute to the beloved dolphin. Visitors will find re-built sets and props used in the filming of the movie, including the lab where scientists worked to create Winter’s prosthetic tail, the first of its kind in the world.
A touching new exhibit, Winter’s Gallery of Hope, shows just how powerful and inspiring Winter’s story has become globally. More than 150 items are on display, a mere fraction of the thousands of mailings the aquarium has received since the release of Dolphin Tale. There are photos of children and adults with missing limbs interacting with Winter, colorful paintings made with a child’s touch, letters both scribbled and typed (even one in Braille), all sharing memories and gratitude for encounters with Winter that changed lives.
“Our Inspire program welcomes people of all ages to come for a visit,” said Becca Romzek, the head of outreach at CMA. “Send us your story to email@example.com and when you plan to visit, and we’ll try to orchestrate a meeting with Winter.”
Today, Winter is thriving at CMA where she can be seen most days during her regular exercise program. She is joined by two other rehabilitated dolphins, Nicholas and Hope, along with injured otters, sea turtles and other marine life. Dolphin Tale 2, a sequel featuring the story of Hope, was released in January 2014.
Admission to Winter’s Dolphin Tale Adventure is free with paid admission to Clearwater Marine Aquarium. seewinter.com.