Virtual reality experience planned to remember ‘Dolphin Tale’ star Winter the dolphin

CLEARWATER, Fla. — Officials with the Clearwater Marine Aquarium announced plans Friday to launch a virtual reality experience to allow fans to virtually swim with Winter, the prosthetic-tailed dolphin who starred in 2011′s “Dolphin Tale” and inspired people worldwide before her death last month.

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“When a loved one passes there is a very real fear that we will forget the sound of their voice or even the way they walked,” Dr. James “Buddy” Powell, president of the Clearwater Marine Aquarium, said in a statement. “For those of us who loved Winter, I’m proud to announce that Winter will live on in the physical world as well as the digital world so her signature tweet, demeanor and personality can never be forgotten.”

Using pictures and 360-degree videos taken during Winter’s life, aquarium officials said they plan to produce a “virtual reality immersive experience” set to go live next month. The aquarium will also remember Winter with a memorial which will open to the public Dec. 26. Officials encouraged fans to bring notes, cards and stories about Winter’s impact to share in the space.

Winter died Nov. 11 of intestinal torsion.

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“Essentially, Winter’s intestines had twisted deep in her intestine,” aquarium officials said last month. “While our team provided Winter the best care and treatment available, the location of the torsion made it impossible to reach through surgery. There was nothing more the team could have done to save her life.”

The bottlenose dolphin had been at Clearwater Marine Aquarium since 2005 when she was rescued after becoming entangled in a crab trapline and losing her tail. Her recovery and the process to get her fitted with a prosthetic tail was chronicled in “Dolphin Tale,” starring Harry Connick Jr., Ashley Judd, Kris Kristofferson and Morgan Freeman. The movie was filmed at Clearwater Marine Aquarium, with Winter starring as herself.

>> Related: Winter the dolphin, star of ‘Dolphin Tale,’ dies at Florida aquarium

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.

Officials with Clearwater Marine Aquarium said Friday that staff members plan to release her ashes into the Gulf of Mexico next month.

“Returning Winter to her natural home is a poetic ending to her incredible 16-year journey and we couldn’t think of a better way to lay her spirit to rest,” Powell said.