Beloved ‘Dolphin Tale’ star Winter dies at Florida aquarium

CLEARWATER, Fla. (AP) — A prosthetic-tailed dolphin named Winter, who starred in the “Dolphin Tale” movies, died Thursday evening at a Florida aquarium despite life-saving efforts to treat the gastrointestinal abnormality, aquarium officials said.

A 16-year-old female bottlenose dolphin was being killed by animal care experts who were preparing winter for a procedure at the Clearwater Marine Aquarium, where the famous marine mammal has long resided.

In a statement released by the aquarium, veterinarian Dr. Shelley Marquardt said, “While we are heartbroken by Winter’s death, we are comforted to know that our team did everything possible to give him the best chance of survival.”

Marquardt said the aquarium worked with experts and marine mammal experts from across the country, but the dolphin, which was in critical condition and collapsing, died while being near caretakers.

The aquarium will remain closed on Fridays to give employees a time of mourning, the statement said. It previously said the closure on Friday would allow workers to focus on medical care for the dolphins, with plans to reopen on Saturday.

Aquarium President James “Buddy” Powell told reporters Thursday that facility staff and outside experts were doing everything possible to restore the dolphins to health.

Powell said Thursday that the winter had previously experienced intestinal problems – not uncommon among dolphins – but that such problems had never affected him. But at the time, he said Winter was not responding to the same treatment as before, with no evidence that Winter had the coronavirus.

Winter was two months old when her tail got caught in a crab trap near Cape Canaveral, forcing her amputation. “Dolphin Tail”, which was released in 2011, chronicled Winter’s recovery and an unprecedented, lengthy attempt to fit her with a prosthetic tail.

Starring Harry Connick Jr., Ashley Judd, Kris Kristofferson, Morgan Freeman and Nathan Gamble, the film was shot extensively at the Clearwater Aquarium and nearby Tampa Bay locations. This put the non-profit aquarium on the international map on the site of a former water treatment plant, first opened in 1972.

“If it weren’t for winter, this place wouldn’t be here,” Powell said.

The story of Winter Rehabilitation has become an inspiration to people with disabilities around the world and the aquarium has received thousands of messages of support since Winter’s illness became known.

“Many are inspired by her resilience and this amazing response reminds us of how deeply she has impacted millions, including many on their health journey,” the aquarium statement said.

A sequel, “Dolphin Tale 2”, was released three years later starring Winter and Hope, another rescued dolphin being looked after by the Clearwater Aquarium.

Bottlenose dolphins can live up to 60 years and are considered the most intelligent of all animal species.

Winter and Hope became the most famous residents of Clearwater Aquarium, which also operates a sea turtle and manatee rescue program.

To handle the crowds that have descended on the aquarium since the release of “Dolphin Tale” a decade ago, the facility’s $80 million expansion was recently completed, including a 1.5 million-gallon (5.6 million-liter) new dolphin complex. is included.