Clearwater Marine Aquarium: Delivering Inspiration and Overcoming Obstacles

Clearwater Marine Aquarium: Delivering Inspiration and Overcoming Obstacles

  Clearwater Marine Aquarium (CMA) and their ʀᴇsᴄᴜᴇ animals inspire and help folks with all kinds of challenges, including veterans, people with limb ᴅɪꜰꜰᴇʀᴇɴᴄᴇs, and those on the ᴀᴜᴛɪsᴍ spectrum. Discover some of their stories and learn how CMA can help you or someone you know.

That Saturday was bitterly cold, but Jim Savage would never give up a chance to go fishing. The New Smyrna Beach man launched his flat skiff at first light, the only boat at the ramp at Canaveral National Seashore. On his way to a favorite trout-fishing hole, he noticed a distant buoy bobbing ᴀɢᴀɪɴsᴛ the wind, creating a wake that rippled ᴀɢᴀɪɴsᴛ the other waves. Savage approached and heard a sound like ᴅᴇsᴘᴇʀᴀᴛᴇ ɢᴀsᴘs of a ᴅʀᴏᴡɴɪɴɢ ᴠɪᴄᴛɪᴍ. Then he saw a baby dolphin entangled in a crab ᴛʀᴀᴘ. Her body was wrapped tightly into a C-shape, and the ᴛʀᴀᴘ’s weight dragged her down. “She must have spun and ꜰᴏᴜɢʜᴛ it but just kept getting more twisted,” he said. He ᴄᴜᴛ the rope in several places, ꜰʀᴇᴇɪɴɢ her enough to swim. But she didn’t go far. One piece of rope remained embedded in her mouth. Savage gently approached, but she darted away a few feet. Yet she didn’t try to leave.


She was alone, too young to be weaned yet apparently abandoned. She wasn’t swimming normally, rolling to her side rather than using her tail.  Savage called a ʀᴇsᴄᴜᴇ team, and the dolphin — subsequently named Winter — was transported to CMA for ᴛʀᴇᴀᴛᴍᴇɴᴛ. The line had ᴄᴜᴛ off circulation to Winter’s tail flukes when she was entangled. Despite ɪɴᴛᴇɴsɪᴠᴇ efforts to help her ʜᴇᴀʟ, her tail ᴡᴏʀsᴇɴᴇᴅ. She ʟᴏsᴛ her entire tail fluke and joint. It’s ʜᴀʀᴅ to overstate this ʟᴏss. Tail flukes are the powerhouse of the dolphin — its engine — and are vital to be able to swim naturally. Winter faced ᴅᴇᴠᴀsᴛᴀᴛɪɴɢ odds ᴀɢᴀɪɴsᴛ being able to sᴜʀᴠɪᴠᴇ at all. But Winter had her own ideas about that. She had energy, adaptability and a ꜰɪɢʜᴛɪɴɢ spirit that blew away all expectations. She recovered completely, figured out how to use her new body to swim in a different way, and discovered she could eat fish on her own.  She got a new tail, too. Hanger Prosthetics and Orthotics, along with Dr. Mike Walsh and Clearwater Marine Aquarium’s Animal Care Team, came up with an ingenious idea for a prosthetic tail for Winter.

And then she became a movie star. “Dolphin Tale,”  produced by Warner Brothers and Alcon Entertainment and released nationwide, told Winter’s story of hope and perseverance. It’s inspired millions, helping all kinds of people with ᴄʜᴀʟʟᴇɴɢᴇs to press on through life’s staunchest ʙᴀʀʀɪᴇʀs.

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