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Business Observer Friday, Nov. 12, 2021 9 months ago

Popular tourist attraction stunned by death of beloved mascot

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Winter the Dolphin, who resided at Clearwater Marine Aquarium, inspired two feature films and the rebranding of a beachfront hotel.
by: Brian Hartz Tampa Bay Editor

CLEARWATER — The Clearwater Marine Aquarium and its fans far and wide are mourning the loss of Winter the Dolphin, the famous porpoise with a prosthetic tail who was rescued in 2005 and rehabilitated at the aquarium, becoming a major tourist draw along with Hope, another rescued bottlenose dolphin. 

According to a news release, Winter was 16 years old at the time of her death, which has been attributed to an unspecified gastrointestinal infection. She became ill on Nov. 1 and her condition gradually worsened over the following days, despite the best efforts of CMA animal care experts.

The aquarium, in a statement posted on its website, announced that it will be closed today, Nov. 12, to allow its staff to grieve. A memorial service is being planned; details will be forthcoming. In the meantime, CMA has set up a website where Winter fans can share their remembrances. 

“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," CMA veterinarian Dr. Shelly Marquardt states in the release. "We worked with specialists and marine mammal experts from around the country to provide her with the best care available. Our staff worked around the clock during this challenging time. I’m honored to work alongside such dedicated and talented professionals, who gave their all for Winter.”

Winter starred in the 2011 film Dolphin Tale and its 2014 sequel, Dolphin Tale 2, which told the story of Hope. Stars such as Morgan Freeman, Ashley Judd, Kris Kristofferson and Harry Connick Jr. appeared in the movies. Dolphin Tale earned nearly $96 million at the box office, while the sequel generated $57.8 million.

In February 2020, Quality Beach Resort, located at 655 S. Gulfview Blvd., in Clearwater Beach, announced that it would undergo a major renovation and rebrand itself as Winter the Dolphin’s Beach Club Hotel. The project was a joint effort that involved the aquarium, Page Development Group and Choice Hotels.

Winter's popularity has been a financial boon for CMA over the years, allowing the attraction to embark on an $80 million expansion that will greatly expand its size and capability to care for marine animals.

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