CLEARWATER, Fla. (AP) — A prosthetic-tailed dolphin named Winter that starred in the “Dolphin Tale” movies died Thursday evening at a Florida aquarium despite life-saving efforts to treat a gastrointestinal abnormality, aquarium officials said.
A 16-year old female bottlenose dolphin, died in custody while her caretakers prepared Winter for an operation at Clearwater Marine Aquarium. Winter is a well-known marine mammal.
“While we are heartbroken by Winter’s death, we are comforted knowing that our team did everything possible to give her the best chance at survival,” said veterinarian Dr. Shelly Marquardt, in a statement released by the aquarium.
Marquardt claimed that while the aquarium collaborated with marine mammal experts across the country and specialists in aquatics, the dolphin was taken to the hospital where it died.
According to the statement, aquarium will remain closed Friday for staff to grieve. It had earlier said a Friday closure would allow workers to focus on the dolphin’s medical care with plans to reopen Saturday.
James “Buddy” Powell, president of the aquarium, told reporters Thursday that the facility’s staff and outside experts were doing everything possible seeking to restore the dolphin to health.
Winter previously experienced intestinal issues — not uncommon among dolphins — but such problems have never affected her like this, Powell had said Thursday. He said that Winter wasn’t responding to treatment like in the past and added there was no evidence Winter has the coronavirus.
Two months old, Winter became trapped in a crab trap close to Cape Canaveral. Her tail was subsequently severed. “Dolphin Tale,” which was released in 2011, chronicled Winter’s recovery and the unprecedented, lengthy effort to fit her with a prosthetic tail.
Starring Harry Connick Jr. and Ashley Judd as well as Kris Kristofferson and Morgan Freeman, the film was shot mainly at Clearwater Aquarium and other Tampa Bay locations. The film put Clearwater aquarium on international radar, which was first established in 1972 at the former site of an old water treatment plant.
“This place wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for Winter,” Powell said.
Winter’s story of rehabilitation has become an inspiration for disabled people around the world and the aquarium has received thousands of messages of support since Winter’s illness became known.
“Many are inspired by her resiliency and this amazing response reminds us of how deeply she has affected millions, including so many on their own health journey,” the aquarium statement said.
A sequel, “Dolphin Tale 2,” was released three years later starring Winter and Hope, another rescued dolphin cared for by the Clearwater aquarium.
Bottlenose dolphins are the longest-lived animal of any species and can reach 60 years old.
Clearwater Aquarium is home to the manatee and sea turtle rescue programs, and Winter and Hope are the two most well-known residents.
An $80 million expansion of the facility was recently completed, including a 1.5 million-gallon (5.6 million-liter) new dolphin complex, to handle the crowds that have descended on the aquarium since “Dolphin Tale” was released a decade ago.