Winter, the dolphin with a prosthetic dolphin tail and an incredible survival story, has become one of the area’s biggest celebrities. In September 2011, Clearwater's beloved Winter made her big-screen debut alongside Harry Connick, Jr. in the movie Dolphin Tale. With themes of friendship, perseverance and hope, the movie carries on Winter’s uplifting message, one has made its way around the world and back. Read on to learn about Winter the dolphin, the movie and the Clearwater aquarium she calls home.
Dolphin Tale was inspired by the true story of Winter. When she was only three months old, she was found tangled in a crab trap line off Florida’s East Coast. She was rescued and transported to the Clearwater Marine Aquarium (CMA), where she faced a long road to recovery. Her injuries were so serious that she lost her tail and two vertebrae. The odds were against her, but she survived thanks to her energetic spirit and ability to adapt.
It wouldn’t have been possible without the devoted work of the CMA’s veterinarians and trainers, and a pioneering company that developed a series of special prosthetic tails. With their coaching, Winter adapted to a new swim pattern, learned to eat fish on her own (about 12 pounds a day!) and returned to her playful ways.
Her unlikely story has landed her lots of media coverage and millions of fans – she’s been featured on the TODAY Show, CNN, BBC and in hundreds of newspapers around the world. And with her lead role in Dolphin Tale, she’s become a true superstar.
The movie was filmed on location at the Clearwater Marine Aquarium (called Clearwater Marine Hospital in the movie) and around Clearwater. It was produced by Warner Bros. Pictures and Alcon Entertainment, the same studio that delivered the blockbuster The Blind Side. Along with Harry Connick, Jr., the all-star cast includes Ashley Judd, Morgan Freeman, Kris Kristofferson and newcomer Nathan Gamble.
Before filming, the director and screenwriter came to the CMA to observe Winter. Though the celebrity dolphin was no stranger to cameras, they were careful to acclimate her to the filming environment. They gradually introduced her to underwater props and set up fake boom lights in her pool. Turns out, Winter was a natural. She plays herself in the movie, with the aid of computer technology in certain scenes.
Get an authentic behind-the-scenes look at the hit film, with recreated movie scenes, images and a variety of actual props used in Dolphin Tale, at Winter's Dolphin Tale Adventure, located in downtown Clearwater’s Harborview Center. The exhibit also includes two mini-theaters, an interactive kids' area and the new Hurricane Experience, a simulation of the sights and sounds of a storm just like Hurricane Leroy in the movie.
Guests can purchase tickets on location or at CMA, where combination packages to both attractions are sold, including free Clearwater Jolley Trolley transportation from one location to the other.
The CMA is a long-standing attraction with a unique focus: rescue, rehabilitation and release. The aquarium notes that it’s a nonprofit working marine hospital, not a theme park. The animals aren’t trained for shows and tricks. Whether they’ll be released into the wild or they’re permanent residents, the aquarium’s purpose is to inspire and educate. It prides itself on offering an up close experience with marine life, including dolphins, sea turtles, stingrays and more. You’ll even be able to see Winter the dolphin and get within a few feet of her pool on your visit to the aquarium.
Of course, the major motion picture is bringing big changes to the facility. The CMA is currently in the middle of a multi-million-dollar expansion, including a new dolphin pool with stadium seating for visitors. Click here to learn more.
To explore other St. Pete/Clearwater area attractions, click here.