Winter the dolphin reunites with savior on 14th anniversary of rescue

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CLEARWATER, Fla. (WFLA) – Winter the dolphin reunited this week with the man who rescued her from a crab trap near Cape Canaveral 14 years ago.

Winter was only 3 months old and had been abandoned by her mother when Jim Savage found her entangled in the trap.

Savage was out fishing one day and saw a buoy out of place and figured a fish was just disturbing it. When he went to check it out, he first laid eyes on Winter.

“And right when I got there, she came up to get a breath, gasped and had the trap and the rope and everything all wrapped around her,” Savage explained. “So I grabbed the buoy, cut the rope and pulled her up on the deck of the boat. The rope was embedded in her skin and her tail and I pulled it all out and cut everything away. It was so tightly wrapped around her that her tail and her head were almost touching from spinning, trying to get away.”

Winter was taken to the Clearwater Marine Aquarium. She has recovered from her extensive injuries but lost her tail.

Savage said the story of her rescue and recovery means a lot to him but knows it means more to those across the world working to overcome.

One of those is his 13-year-old great-niece, Gracie Savage, who lives in Oregon with her family. Gracie was born with a chromosomal syndrome called 22-Q Deletion, which causes difficulties with her different body systems.

Her mother, Katie, said Gracie has loved Winter and her story from a young age. But the family never knew it was their relative who rescued the beloved dolphin.

“So when we were reading the book one time, when I was there, I heard the name ‘Jim Savage.’ And I said, ‘hey, we’re Savages, are we related to him?’ And [my husband was] like, ‘I don’t think so, but he does live on the East Coast and that’s where all my East Coast relatives are,’” Katie explained. “We called his mom, put two and two together and it was like, ‘Oh. My. Gosh. That is our great uncle that just rescued this dolphin that means the world to my daughter.’ It was amazing.”

Through Make-A-Wish, the family was first able to visit Winter and meet Jim Savage in 2016.

Katie said she never thought her family would be back, but Clearwater Marine Aquarium CEO David Yates reached out to them, asked how Gracie was doing and invited the family to visit Winter on the anniversary of her rescue.

The family got to visit Winter up close, play with her and feed her and fellow dolphin Hope some fish on Tuesday.

“She inspires me,” Gracie said with a smile.

Gracie said her favorite part of the morning was feeding the dolphins. She wants to be a dolphin trainer when she grows up, because of Winter.

“There was, I believe, a higher power that was working this all out and bringing this all together that knew that this dolphin was needed, not just for Gracie, but so many kids around the world that have been inspired to just keep going and keep trying, because if Winter can, you can,” her mother said through tears.

Savage told us his rescue of Winter has “turned into one heck of a story” and he never thought people would still be talking about it.

He was able to make a difference in so many lives by rescuing one little dolphin, who has gone on to inspire thousands.

“If I hadn’t gone by that morning, being a fisherman and knowing that the buoy was out of line and seeing that disturbance, it was like 50 yards away, and seeing something right and slowing down and going over there…well, she wouldn’t have made it,” he said.

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