Winter the Dolphin, star of ‘Dolphin Tale,’ dies at Clearwater Aquarium

CLEARWATER, Fla. — Winter, the prosthetic-tailed dolphin at the center of 2011′s “Dolphin Tale,” died late Thursday night, Clearwater Aquarium announced.

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“With heavy hearts, CMA announced tonight that Winter the Dolphin died at approximately 8 p.m. as animal care experts from around the country worked to treat her gastrointestinal abnormality,” the aquarium tweeted. “The CMA family is devastated.”

READ: Winter the dolphin, star of ‘Dolphin Tale,’ critically ill at Florida aquarium

“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,” Veterinarian Dr. Shelly Marquardt said in a news release. “I’m honored to work alongside such dedicated and talented professionals who gave their all for Winter.”

Officials with the Clearwater Marine Aquarium said Wednesday that tests showed that Winter’s “intestinal abnormalities have intensified” despite treatment from the aquarium’s animal care experts. Staff members first noticed that the 16-year-old dolphin “wasn’t acting like her normal self” and appeared to be uninterested in eating on Nov. 1.

“The dedicated CMA animal care experts are consulting with top animal care and veterinary specialists in the country and exploring all possible options to save Winter’s life,” aquarium officials said in a statement. “She is our top priority.”

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Dr. James “Buddy” Powell, the aquarium’s executive director, on Thursday told the Tampa Bay Times that intestinal issues are not uncommon in marine mammals like Winter.

“Actually, Winter before this has had some of these issues, but this time it has just continued to progress,” he told the newspaper. “There are treatments, but she hasn’t responded. So it still is a little bit of a mystery as to what caused it.”

The aquarium will close to the public on Friday, with plans to reopen at 10 a.m. Saturday. On the recommendation of medical care staff, officials said they will limit views of the dolphin after the aquarium reopens.

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Winter had been at the Clearwater Marine Aquarium since 2005, after she became entangled in a crab trapline and lost her tail.

“During this time, she has faced many health challenges due to her injury,” aquarium officials said in a statement. “She continues to show a strong, determined and fighting spirit, and her resiliency continues to inspire us all.”

Winter’s recovery and the process to get her fitted with a prosthetic tail was chronicled in “Dolphin Tail,” starring Harry Connick Jr., Ashley Judd, Kris Kristofferson and Morgan Freeman. The movie was filmed at Clearwater Marine Aquarium, with Winter starring as herself.

Winter also appeared in 2014′s “Dolphin Tale 2,” which focused on Hope, another dolphin who has been at the Clearwater Marine Aquarium since she was rescued in 2010.

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Adam Poulisse, WFTV.com

Adam Poulisse joined WFTV in November 2019.