For Winter…

Recently, our relatives visited from Denmark. The first week was spent at our house; the second week, we all recharged with a trip to Florida!  It was not easy to sync so many schedules – six adults and three kids from two countries!  What a fantastic week!  Disney World is thrilling, but there was one particular day that has us still beaming.  How often do you get to cross something off your “bucket list”? We couldn’t imagine traveling from Connecticut to Florida, and not visiting someone very special!

Ninety minutes from Orlando, in Clearwater Beach, lies Clearwater Marine Aquarium, a marine animal hospital that rescues, rehabilitates and releases sick and injured animals.  For years, they’ve healed and released numerous dolphins, sea turtles, and river otters.  If an animal can’t survive in the wild, they may take permanent residence at CMA.  One such resident is Winter. Winter, an Atlantic Bottlenose Dolphin, was only three months old in 2005 when she was found horribly entangled in the ropes of a crab trap.  Her tail severely injured, it looked like she might not survive.  Sadly, she ended up losing her tail, but miraculously, she recovered. A prosthetic tail was designed with a special sleeve, using “Winter’s Gel”, which has inspired more comfortable human prosthetics, too.

We first heard of Winter the dolphin when we saw the movie Dolphin Tale, based on Winter’s ordeal, during its fall 2011 release. It’s one of those rare, perfect family films, starring amazing talents like Ashley Judd, Kris Kristofferson, Morgan Freeman, and Harry Connick, Jr. (sigh…).  It was a cold, wet, school holiday, so I took my daughter and a friend to the movies. Glued to the screen from the film’s start, Winter captured our hearts! Since then, we’ve watched that film countless times, and frequently visit Clearwater Marine Aquarium’s webcam ( ) to view Winter and her dolphin pals, Hope and Panama.  We’ve watched her feed, play, and have her prosthetic tail taken on and off.  We’ve dreamed of touring CMA and “meeting” Winter.

The day we visited Clearwater Beach was beautiful.  To get there, we crossed one of the longest bridges I’ve ever seen, with breathtaking scenery!

At the aquarium, all the staff were so friendly and informative.  Their love for animals and pride in what they do is evident. I think they are heroes. Of course, the first thing we wanted to see was Winter!

Posing with my in-laws in front of the entrance to the Aquarium, “Hazel’s Houseboat” from the movie Dolphin Tale

A sequel to the film’s being made, so Winter, Hope, and Panama were outside in a covered area.  There she was!  I was surprised  how tiny Winter looks off-screen.  There are stadium seats where visitors can sit to watch the dolphins, or one can stand a safe distance near the tank edge. At first, she kept swimming to the other side. At one point, only my daughter, myself and a staff member were by Winter’s side of the tank.  We were so excited, we couldn’t help gushing over her.  The CMA staff member told us Winter was also curious of us.  She came closer, making dolphin sounds. What a ham! While we were talking to the staff member,  Winter started “showing off” – she wanted our attention back!

Sweet little Winter checks us out..

The knowledgeable young man on duty taught us all about Winter and dolphins. He was so passionate, saying, “They’re our babies”.  Young dolphins are pinkish in color, becoming darker grey with age.  Mother dolphins teach their young how to survive and find fish, and the oldest dolphin in captivity just turned sixty years of age!  Hope was just a baby when she was rescued, trying to nurse her dead mother. Panama was older when she came to live at CMA. Sick, she’d become a “beggar” dolphin – relying on boats for food.

The reason Winter’s not always wearing her tail is because the prosthetic is used for exercise. You wouldn’t wear your workout gear all the time, either! I love how CMA considers its resident animals “ambassadors” for their species, promoting environmental conservation.

We watched the dolphins a long time. Before leaving, I went to snap Audrey’s photo in front of Winter’s tank.  Right then, Winter poked her head out of the water, as if “posing” for the camera.  It was a magical moment, and of the 650 photos we took on vacation,that’s my favorite.

We visited the rest of the aquarium, it’s marine animals and tanks of fish and sea turtles.  We learned all about stingrays, and Audrey got to hand feed some!

The character of “Rufus” was actually played by two beautiful pelicans.

The town of Clearwater Beach is lovely.  We ate lunch at a beach side restaurant, and took a heavenly swim in the ocean.  The sand is white and soft, the water clear and warm.

The view from our table at lunch.  We went for a heavenly swim, but left after a rather large, very fast stingray swam around us. A little too close to the wildlife…

Afterwards, we toured “Winter’s Dolphin Tale Adventure” downtown.  We saw movie props, learned more about Winter, and experienced what it’s like to be in a hurricane. (My daughter had us experience the hurricane exhibit three times)!

Audrey was a little apprehensive about a new school year after what transpired in our hometown last December.  After Florida, she couldn’t wait to go to school and tell her teachers and friends about visiting Winter.  She knows other kids who’ve been to Disney, but not to CMA.   She’s always said she wants to be a veterinarian someday. Now she’s inspired by marine biology, as well, her nose buried in a book on dolphins.

Everyday in Florida was memorable, but the day we spent at Clearwater Marine Aquarium was extra special – fun, inspiring, and educational. Winter’s an enchanting and inspirational soul – a real-life example of survival and hope.

Until Next Time…Farmgirl Hugs, Nicole

  1. I’d never heard of Clearwater. What a very cool place to visit! I enjoyed your story and pics of Winter and sunny Florida.

    Thank you, MaryJane!  We hadn’t heard of Clearwater before, either, until we saw the movie about Winter.  We really enjoyed the day and would love to visit again.  Much love to you! -Nicole

  2. Adrienne says:

    I’m so glad you were able to visit dolphins in an aquarium instead of a performance venue. Animals, mammals, birds, etc., are ours to protect and care for. I hope your sweet daughter does become a veterinarian or marine biologist. One more person saving these beautiful creatures can certainly help maintain their existence on our planet. The Monterey Bay Aquarium in California protects and rehabilitates sea otters among other species and my birthday gift last year was an adoption certificate for Repo, a sea otter who is now living healthy at the Aquarium. I also hope another trip to Florida is in your future!

    Hi Adrienne!  What a neat birthday gift you received last year!  Clearwater Beach is definitely somewhere we want to visit again, and it was such a treat to visit the aquarium.  My daughter still has on the wrist band from her admission ticket…she refuses to take it off.  It’s a wonderful place.  Thanks for reading and commenting.  Farmgirl Hugs, Nicole

  3. Tina Hart says:

    I live in Pensacola , Florida. You just gave me a wonderful reason to take an in-state vacation to Clear water. Thanks for the inspiration, once again. BTW- I have not started scrap booking yet. I’m still going through my baking phase and sewing phase. Still waiting for that scrap booking bug to bite me and take that class, lol.

    Hi Tina! Wow is Florida a beautiful state.  It’s been twenty years since I was there last, but always have loved going.  It was my first visit to Clearwater. If you go visit Clearwater and Winter, let me know.  I know you will enjoy it!  The baking bug is biting at me recently, too.  This week is Pumpkin Spice Bread.  Farmgirl hugs, Nicole

  4. Cindy says:

    It’s nice to see your photos and that your family enjoyed the day here in the county where I live! I’m in Seminole, close to Redington Beach. CMA is about 10 miles from my house and Winter has made it famous. 🙂 Next time you get to Clearwater Beach, you should do a dolphin boat tour. The dolphins like to play and jump up in the waves that the boat makes. Really a lot of fun! Oh, another thing, our gulf water temperature is like warm bath water in summer and so calm. I grew up in MD and we would go to the beach where the water was freezing cold in mid July! And waves to knock you down. Yes, I prefer the Gulf!

    Hi Cindy.  I really enjoyed my trip to your neck of the woods.  The people at CMA who do rescues like Winter are amazing.  I read on their website that they do rescues 24 hours…whenever an animal needs them. 
    I grew up in Houston and we always went to Galveston for beach trips.  Miss that warm water (and weather) for sure!  The Long Island Sound here is beautiful but can be quite cold.  Thanks for reading and commenting! Farmgirl Hugs, Nicole

  5. All the photos were really interesting and I really was particularly interested in the marine aquarium. I live right near the Pacific Ocean, so I’m really interested in those things. I’m glad you could spend some time with your relatives. Love and hugs from the ocean shores of California, Heather 🙂

    Hi Heather!  Thank you. We saw and did a lot while in Florida, but the Marine Aquarium was our favorite.  Farmgirl hugs, Nicole

  6. Joey says:

    Oh Nicole,
    I wish we had known. I live the next town up from Clearwater. I can literally walk to Clearwater and the aquarium! These are the sights I see all the time and love driving by the water on my way to work every day.
    Winter’s story is amazing and my grandgirls "adopted" Hope and the otter this year when they came to visit. So glad you liked it. Clearwater is hoping to build a whole new aquarium soon.
    Good news!! There will be a Dolphin Tale 2 released in Fall 2014 I think, with the original cast. I believe they will be telling Hope’s story. We are all pretty excited about all of the actors coming again. We have lots of great restaurants and shops in my town of Dunedin so they are here almost every day when they are filming.
    Rod and I love living here and being so close to the water and birds. He does lots of fishing and we really enjoy the beach. Maybe you could come again next year and we could meet up then. So glad you enjoyed our neck of the woods (well, beach really.) Hugs to you all, Joey

    Hi Joey!  I wished I would have known you were so close, too!  I had tried to reach you before we left, but missed you, I suppose.  I am sure we will be back…we love it there! Can’t wait for Dolphin Tale 2!  So sad to hear that Panama passed on 9/25. Big hugs, Nicole

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