Nov 12, 2021 - News

Mystery illness kills Winter the dolphin

Winter plays with a guest at the Clearwater Marine Aquarium

Winter plays with a guest. Photo courtesy of Clearwater Marine Aquarium

The Clearwater Marine Aquarium announced late yesterday that Winter the dolphin died after a mysterious illness.

Driving the news: The world-famous dolphin — who learned to swim using a prosthetic tail after she was rescued from a tangled crab-trap line — had been ill since last week, and was not responding to treatments.

  • During preparation for a procedure, the CMA Animal Care team observed that Winter’s behavior and vital signs were declining, the aquarium reported. The medical team tried several life-saving efforts, but she died being held by her caregivers.

Flashback: The inspiration for the 2011 film "Dolphin Tale" starring Ashley Judd and Morgan Freeman, Winter inspired amputees and sick children around the globe, some of them making pilgrimages to see the perpetually positive animal.

  • Get-well wishes had come in from far-flung places. "Love you Winter," one little girl wrote on a card, per the Tampa Bay Times. "Feel better."

Why it matters: Winter had long been the aquarium’s main attraction. Aquarium attendance jumped from 200,000 guests per year to more than half a million every year since "Dolphin Tale" premiered, allowing an $80 million expansion that tripled the space it has to take care of animals, the Tampa Bay Times reports.

What's next: The aquarium is closed to the public today. Reopening and memorial plans will likely be announced this morning.

  • Winter had been taking medicine orally and intravenously, but had been docile as staff tried to treat the mystery illness.
  • Winter was 16, not especially old for a dolphin. Some in captivity live several more decades.

The bottom line: We're over here crying over a dolphin that taught us to be better people. Thank you, Winter.


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