As a native Floridian from Tampa, Florida, visiting the Clearwater Marine Aquarium was one of my most cherished childhood memories. Though home to a number of marine creatures and rescued wildlife, thousands across the globe travel to meet a certain bottlenose dolphin more popular than others: the world-famous Winter the Dolphin.
On Dec. 10, 2005, at just two months old, infant Winter was found caught in a crab trap, cutting off circulation and causing severe damage to her little tail. She was rescued by the CMA rehabilitation team and brought back to the aquarium, where she would have to battle to adapt to her new lifestyle without a tail.
Despite all odds, Winter was able to make a full recovery with a prosthetic tail, all while keeping her energetic, sweet personality. She starred in two heartwarming films, “Dolphin Tale” and “Dolphin Tale 2,” which debrief her life at the aquarium and recount her fight for survival without a tail, something other dolphins would be unable to accomplish.
Sadly, Winter’s inspirational journey came to an end on Thursday, Nov. 11. CMA staff said she had been suffering from a gastrointestinal infection, which eventually worsened over the days leading up to her death. Dolphin experts and marine veterinarians from across the nation stressed making their utmost efforts to nurse Winter back to health, signifying just how important this animal was to so many. Above all, her life fostered the value of companionship and introduced an avenue that brought others closer together.
“Winter taught us that family is forever and today, our family is mourning her loss,” CMA said in an Instagram post following her memorial service Friday, Nov. 12.
And, in a bittersweet video message to her fans, costar in “Dolphin Tale” Cozi Zuehlsdorff said that working with Winter was “the greatest honor of [her] life” and that Winter’s ultimate purpose was to “swim up next to you and show you the strength that you already had.”
Winter specifically touches the lives of those who are paraplegics or burdened with physical handicaps and other disabilities.
“In the year of 2019, freshman year of high school, I was diagnosed with severe scoliosis,” an anonymous user said on rememberingwinter.com, a site created to send condolences to Winter and the CMA family. “I had three different severe curvatures in my spine… I suffered from a lot of nerve damage. I was constantly getting made fun of for my back being shaped weird and having to wear a big, bulky back brace… A few months after being diagnosed, I had a friend send me something about Winter struggling from scoliosis due to her tail amputation. And that was the first time in a while I didn’t feel completely alone.”
Additionally, fisherman Jim Savage, who helped rescue Winter, had a personal connection to her. His grandniece Grace Savage suffers from velocardiofacial syndrome, which causes heart defects and a weakened immune system.
“[Winter] gives us inspiration and to never give up,” she said in an interview with FOX 13.
Another anonymous source added, “[Winter] has been a beacon of hope and inspiration that we can look to. She has been a connection to one another. She has taught children it is ok to be different. Different is good. Different is not being different at all; it is being unique.”
Although Winter may not be physically swimming around her tank, making her lighthearted chirping noises, and interacting with visitors, fans, and the beloved CMA staff, her impact is still visible through the countless voices that have expressed their devotion and love to what Winter represents. Her journey symbolizes hope, light and love, and it encourages people to persist through adversity. Her spirit ultimately lives on through us.