September 27, 2011

Winter needs a new home

Posted in Between Us column, Entertainment, Movies, Travel at 5:37 am by dinaheng

Walk up to the pool where the real star of the new film “Dolphin Tale” lives, and you’re likely to get a curious look from the five-year-old female Atlantic Bottlenose Dolphin named Winter.

Happy to speak her mind, the dolphin emits her signature whistle — a tweety bird sound — as she’s fed a snack by Abby Stone, senior marine mammal trainer at the Clearwater Marine Aquarium (CMA).

“We believe dolphins have a more advanced form of communication than other species,” Stone says, petting Winter’s flank as she stretches the rear end of the dolphin to work her muscles and tendons. “They’re good problem solvers and have good memory. The brain to body proportion is large, and while we don’t know what they use the larger brain for, in a group, they work together. They have cooperative hunting, are capable of play, and being deceptive.”

In other words, they know how to fool anyone who thinks they’re smarter than the average dolphin.

The story of this particular dolphin came to the world’s attention several years ago when Winter was found entangled in a crab trap near Cape Canaveral by a local fisherman. The wounds on the animal were so deep that the tail tissue was dead and fell off within a few days of being rescued and taken to the Clearwater Marine Aquarium.

“A lot of what you see in the movie ‘Dolphin Tale’ is what we do in real life,” says David Yates, CEO of the aquarium. “We’re on call 24/7. Our job is rescue, rehabilitation and release. If a wounded animal won’t survive in the wild, they’re kept here. We promote environmental work to inspire people to take better care of our  marine life environment.”

Six years ago, the aquarium was in debt and in danger of closing, so Yates decided to use Winter’s story to draw attention to the animal hospital, holding a series of “Save Winter” events as fundraisers.

“When Winter’s tail came off, she shouldn’t have survived,” Yates says. “If she can’t swim and come to the surface to breathe, she’d die. So we held her up 24 hours a day until we could figure out what to do.”

News reports of the dolphin’s rescue and loss of her tail prompted Kevin Carroll, and Dan Strzempka, prosthetists with Hanger Prosthetics & Orthotics (which makes prosthetic limbs for humans) to volunteer to try to make a tail for Winter. The two prosthetics designers, Dr. Mike Walsh, a marine mammal veterinarian, and CMA’s marine mammal trainers formed a braintrust that then created an artificial tail for Winter.

In the process, they also developed “Winter’s Gel,” a sock made of very soft rubbery material, to help keep the tail on the dolphin. “Winter’s Gel” is now used to also help many veterans and amputees reduce the pain of wearing their prostheses.

Winter now wears her tail four or five times a day as she continues to adapt to it. The dolphin is fitted for a new tail every two months because of her continued growth.

In addition to working with dolphins, CMA rescues turtles, river otters, and is on-call to respond to other marine animals in distress.

For the filming of “Dolphin Tale,” Alcon Entertainment built an addition to the aquarium where most of the scenes with Winter were filmed. The “Dolphin Deck” remains as a facility that is now used to rehabilitate wounded animals.

The aquarium has launched a campaign to “Help Build Winter’s New Home,” planning to build a new animal care area that would allow it to double the number of animals it can rehabilitate, and build a new dolphin complex to give Winter and her friends more living space.

“We’ve got commitments for $3 million of the $12 million that’s needed for the expansion,” Yates says. “We’re hoping that after seeing ‘Dolphin Tale,’ the world will help us build Winter’s new home.”

To see Winter’s real home at CMA, check out




Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: