You may know the story of Winter the dolphin through the 2011 movie Dolphin Tale starring Harry Connick Jr., Ashley Judd and Morgan Freeman. What you may not know is that Winter’s permanent home, Clearwater Marine Aquarium (CMA), has been rescuing marine life, and teaching people about it, since 1981 in its location just across the harbor from stunning Clearwater Beach, which was voted the "Best Beach Town in Florida" by USA Today readers in 2013.
Plan a visit to CMA to see Winter and other rescued dolphins, sea turtles and otters; participate in an animal interaction program, or take an eco-cruise. Plus, you can save on admission to the Aquarium with CityPASS Tampa Bay. CityPASS holders save a total of 37% off regular admission to five area attractions, including the CMA. Learn more about CityPASS here.
Like Winter, most of the animals residing at CMA were rescued and transported to the aquarium for care and rehabilitation. This means that the animals on exhibit change from time to time, and that instead of the choreographed shows you’ll see at some animal-centered attractions, CMA entertains with educational presentations. The aquarium keeps a schedule of these presentations, and a close log of its current residents, on its website.
Winter, however, is a permanent resident. She and CMA’s other Atlantic bottlenose dolphins (including another female named Hope) rotate between pools throughout the day to receive their therapy, which you can observe every half-hour. Winter’s regimen includes a once-daily swim with her prosthetic tail, though she can be selective about when she wants to wear it. When the time is right, CMA staff will make an announcement so you can watch her practice.
In addition, sea turtle, otter and stingray presentations, as well as feedings, occur regularly.
Animal interaction programs have become such popular upgrades to CMA admission that staffers recommend making your reservation at least three months in advance. Before you reserve, inquire about age requirements: Visitors at least 5 years old can wade with dolphins while 7-year-olds (and up) can work side-by-side with a trainer and glimpse CMA’s working animal hospital during a “Dolphin Encounter.” For visitors at least 12 years old, CMA’s “Trainer for a Day” program gives you three hours of shadowing a trainer through enrichment and feeding sessions with dolphins and otters.
For a simple, but still fascinating, interaction, consider purchasing a food ticket to feed CMA’s stingrays at select times throughout the day.
CMA’s Sea Life Safari cruises the Intracoastal Waterway for 90 narrated minutes of wildlife-spotting (dolphins and seabirds are common sights) and data collection: Passengers of all ages can assist with a net-pull – and handle any sea creatures that turn up. CMA visitors who are at least 7 years old can also join a two-hour kayak tour to identify wildlife around local islands. All equipment, including an expert guide, comes with the tour fee.
After you’ve seen Winter, take the free trolley from CMA to downtown Clearwater’s Harborview Center. The exhibit “Winter’s Dolphin Tale” is included with your CMA admission and tells how Dolphin Tale was filmed on location at CMA and around Clearwater through re-built sets, props and images from the movie, plus an interactive children’s area. If you haven’t visited CMA, you can buy tickets to “Winter’s Dolphin Tale” at the exhibit.
CMA is in the midst of a capital campaign to expand its current facility by enhancing the dolphin pool, hospital and other areas. No shutdowns are currently planned, but inquire before you visit for any updates at seewinter.com.