Winter the dolphin, beloved star of ‘Dolphin Tale’ and Clearwater Marine Aquarium, has died at 16

Despite life-saving efforts, the aquarium said, “she died being held by her caregivers.”


Winter, the treasured rescue dolphin star of Clearwater Marine Aquarium and the “Dolphin Tale” franchise, has died at age 16.

The aquarium said Winter died around 8 p.m. Thursday as she was being prepared for more treatment for a gastrointestinal infection. Staff at CMA said they noticed Winter had stopped eating and was behaving abnormally on Nov. 1. Since then, she had undergone tests and been treated continuously.

On Thursday, the aquarium said the infection had intensified and that the dolphin was in critical condition as teams explored “all possible options to save Winter’s life.” Later that night, Winter’s behavior and vital signs declined as she was being prepared for a procedure.

Despite life-saving efforts, the aquarium said, “she died being held by her caregivers.”

“The CMA family is devastated,” the aquarium wrote on Twitter.

“While we are heartbroken by Winter’s death, we are comforted knowing that our team did everything possible to give her the best chance at survival. We worked with specialists and marine mammal experts from around the country to provide her with the best care available. Our staff worked around the clock during this challenging time,” Veterinarian Dr. Shelly Marquardt said in a release. “I’m honored to work alongside such dedicated and talented professionals who gave their all for Winter.”

The aquarium will remain closed Friday and a grief counselor is being made available to the staff.

CMA also set up an online obituary page for Winter’s fans to share memories, condolences and donations to the aquarium in lieu of flowers. By Friday morning, messages from around the country poured in and more than $5,000 had been raised for the aquarium.

“We will miss her dolphin tweets and spunky yet sweet personality, her mat laying and bubble-ring blowing playtime, and how she always seemed to know who needed her support the most,” CMA wrote in Winter’s obituary. “We will miss Winter.”

On Dec. 5, 2005, a two-month-old dolphin was found tangled in a crab line on the east coast of Florida just north of Cape Canaveral. The crab line had cut off circulation to her tail flukes, so the tail had to be amputated.

While most dolphins, both in the wild and in captivity, wouldn’t survive without a tail, Winter thrived with a specially made prosthetic. Her story of resilience turned her into a star in the Tampa Bay area, in Florida and around the world. She also became an inspiration for people with limb differences and frequently met those who had lost limbs and learned to use prosthetics.

Winter was also a movie star. Her story was adapted into the 2011 feature film “Dolphin Tale” starring Morgan Freeman, Ashley Judd and Harry Connick Jr. Winter played a leading role along with some computer animation technology and the movie was shot around Pinellas County.

The sequel, “Dolphin Tale 2,” premiered in 2014. Both films put Winter and Clearwater Marine Aquarium in the global spotlight, more than tripling annual attendance boosting tourism in the area. In a recent interview with the Tampa Bay Times for the 10th anniversary of “Dolphin Tale’s” release, aquarium spokesperson Kelsy Long said the film had a $2 billion impact on the county’s tourism from 2012 to 2015.

“From her countless ‘Dolphin Tale’ fans to her visitors, she has touched the hearts of everyone,” CMA wrote in Winter’s obit. “Though Winter’s time with us has come to an end, her spirit and inspiration will continue to live on in our hearts forever.”

Plans for a memorial for Winter are underway. Friday morning, aquarium president Dr. James “Buddy” Powell told 10 Tampa Bay there will be a memorial on Nov. 20 with more details released at a later date.

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