CEO of Clearwater Marine Aquarium stepping down, COO taking over

Pinellas County

CLEARWATER, Fla. (WFLA) – The CEO of Clearwater Marine Aquarium announced his resignation on Thursday after 14 years with the aquarium.

David Yates was hired in February 2006 and has helped bring international attention to the aquarium due to Winter the Dolphin.

He said he has “the best job in the world” as CEO of the aquarium, but has more of his life to get to. Yates said it’s absolutely the right time to do that, as plans for the aquarium’s new facility, which does not yet have an opening date, are in place.

“I want to produce some more movies, TV shows. I want to do some public speaking, write some books,” he explained. “And with the plan in place for the building locked, where we know it’s going to happen, we have explosive growth coming, having a guy like Frank Dame there to manage that, it kind of was the sweet spot where I’m going to move at some point into the other chapter of my life, now would be the time. Tough decision.”

Yates said while most people might say his proudest moment of this journey would be co-producing the “Dolphin Tale” movies, he told 8 On Your Side otherwise.

“But probably my greatest love of what I’ve done here is our work with kids. We work with tens of thousands of sick and injured kids who connect to Winter’s overcoming story really in a life-changing way,” Yates explained.

He said when “Dolphin Tale” first came out, the aquarium had 10,000 emails in one weekend from kids telling their stories.

Current COO Frank Dame will take over as the aquarium’s CEO and has been with the aquarium since 2006.

He told 8 On Your Side he is humbled, flattered and excited.

“I’m excited for the future. David has set up a great vision for CMA. It’s one that I’ve shared with him for many years and help to execute. And I don’t see a lot of variation from what he’s set up right now,” he said.

Dame said manatee rehabilitation at the aquarium’s new facility will be important to him moving forward.

“I think there’s a need for manatee rehab and I think we will be able to fulfill part of that need, for sure,” he said.

When that building opens, Nikolas the dolphin will move into one of five new dolphin habitats. His pool will be fitted to accommodate manatee rehabilitation.

CMA currently assists with manatee rescues and released, but does not house rehabilitated manatees. Dame said that may happen in 2020, but “surely” in 2021.

Dame also said he will focus on challenges including weather-related incidents and red tide, but is also concerned about heavy traffic to reach the aquarium.

“This traffic is a real, real challenge and we need to solve that. I’m on the transportation committee for Amplify Clearwater and I’ve had meetings with Forward Pinellas and things like that, and I’m going to be very involved with trying to find a solution to this problem here because that’s an inhibitor for the hotels and us.”

Yates believes he’s leaving the aquarium in good hands – from Dame to his staff, board of directors and almost 800 volunteers.

“So between all that being there, staff, volunteers and board, everything is humming right now. SO this is why I can leave, everything is in place. And we have great, great leadership coming with Frank and the team,” he said.

Yates’ last day as CEO of the aquarium will be March 15.

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