You may know the story of Winter the dolphin through the movies "Dolphin Tale" and "Dolphin Tail 2" 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. This marine life rescue center is located near Tampa, Florida, just across the harbor from stunning Clearwater Beach, which routinely lands among TripAdvisor's top five beaches in the U.S., taking the top spot in 2016 and No. 4 in 2017. "Dolphin Tale 2," released in the fall of 2014, tells another true story inspired by the life of Winter and introduces a new baby dolphin named Hope, rescued by Clearwater Marine Aquarium in 2010. Winter and Hope, who both reside at CMA, play themselves in the movie. Once again, a bright light was cast on this amazing facility.
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 51% off regular admission to five area attractions, including the CMA. Learn more about CityPASS.
Clearwater Marine Aquarium Educational Presentations
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 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. Winter’s regimen includes daily swims with her prosthetic tail. 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 at the Clearwater Marine Aquarium
Animal interaction programs have become such popular upgrades to CMA admission that staffers recommend making your reservation as much in advance as possible. Visitors at least 7-years-old 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.