PINELLAS COUNTY, Fla. (WFLA) – Winter the Dolphin, star of “Dolphin Tale” and Tampa Bay icon, has sadly passed away following her battle with intestinal issues.
The aquarium closed its doors Friday, Nov. 12 to allow staff members time to grieve. A grief counselor was made available to the team.
Dr. James Powell, the president of Clearwater Marine Aquarium, said they are devastated by this loss.
“The world is so sad to have lost an animal ambassador that has inspired us all,” Powell said Friday morning.
Team members at Clearwater Marine Aquarium noticed that Winter “wasn’t acting like her normal self” and was not interested in eating.
Test results on Wednesday, Nov. 10 showed that, despite “aggressive” treatment from aquarium staff, abnormalities in her intestines intensified, making Winter’s condition critical.
Animal care experts at CMA worked with veterinary specialists from across the country and world as they explored all possible options to help save Winter.
Unfortunately, despite battling intestinal issues in the past, Winter died at approximately 8 p.m. on Thursday, Nov. 11 while being held by her caregivers.
“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. 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,” said Veterinarian Dr. Shelly Marquardt, DVM, CVA. “I’m honored to work alongside such dedicated and talented professionals who gave their all for Winter.”
Winter made national headlines in 2005 when she was rescued off the Florida coast and taken to the Clearwater Marine Aquarium. The bottlenose dolphin had become entangled in a crab trap line and lost her tail. She later received a prosthetic replacement.
Her story inspired the 2011 film “Dolphin Tale,” starring Harry Connick Jr., Ashley Judd, Kris Kristofferson, and Morgan Freeman. The movie would go on to receive a sequel, called “Dolphin Tale 2.”
Stars from the movie have been showing their support for the beloved dolphin.
Austin Highsmith Garces, who played Phoebe in “Dolphin Tale” and “Dolphin Tale 2” shared a message on Twitter saying in part, “Some of my favorite memories were made with this incredible animal. I will miss you forever, Winter.”
Harry Connick Jr. also posted a video message on his Instagram talking about how Winter changed the world.
“I was so lucky to be able to be in both Dolphin Tale movies and get a chance to spend some time with this amazing creature who really did change the world,” Connick Jr. on his Instagram page. “I was so sorry for all the people at Clearwater Marine Aquarium and everybody who got a chance to be touched by this magical animal. I was one of those people.”
“It was like the greatest honor of my life, and I don’t say that ironically because through playing Hazel I got to be an ambassador for the aquarium for over 10 years and I got to see first-hand all of you who loved her in a way that was so deep,” the actress said. “I soaked in every single moment I had with our dear little dolphin and she was just as amazing as you think she was.”
Clearwater Marine Aquarium plans to set up a temporary memorial outside of the main staircase at the facility where friends and fans of winter can leave messages.
CMA plans to hold a memorial ceremony on Saturday, November 20. More details are expected to be released soon.