Florida Aquarium to Spread Winter the Dolphin's Ashes in Gulf of Mexico, Create Memorial

The Clearwater Marine Aquarium in Florida announced a plan Friday to spread Winter the Dolphin's ashes in the Gulf of Mexico, as well as create a memorial for her.

Aquarium President James "Buddy" Powell said they plan to release her ashes next month.

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

The aquarium set up an ongoing memorial, as well, for people to bring notes, cards and remembrances of Winter.

Winter died at age 16 on November 11 because of an inoperable gastrointestinal abnormality, according to the Associated Press. Veterinarian Dr. Shelly Marquardt said the aquarium collaborated with specialists and marine mammal experts across the United States to help Winter, but she died while caregivers held her.

"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," Marquardt said in a statement the aquarium released.

Winter was rescued along Florida's East Coast in December of 2005 when her tail was caught in a crab trap rope, causing it to be amputated. She was able to use a prosthetic tail.

Her recovery story became the focus of two Dolphin Tale films in 2011 and 2014, with many people that have disabilities and chronic illnesses seeing a hero in Winter.

Winter's fame helped the aquarium, which previously was a water treatment plant, with an $80 million renovation, including a new 1.5-million-gallon habitat for dolphins.

Along with the memorial and plan to scatter Winter's ashes, there is also an endowment and song in the dolphin's honor.

Winter the Dolphin, Memorial, Ashes
Clearwater Marine Aquarium senior marine mammal trainer Abby Stone works with Winter the Dolphin on August 31, 2011, in Clearwater, Florida. The 16-year-old female bottlenose dolphin died on November 11, 2021, while being treated for a gastrointestinal abnormality. The Clearwater Marine Aquarium announced on December 10, 2021, that Winter's legacy will include an ongoing memorial, a funding endowment, a special song and a plan to release the animal's cremated ashes in the Gulf of Mexico. Chris O'Meara/AP Photo, File

Powell said the virtual reality experience will allow people beginning in January to interact with Winter even though she's gone. It was built on videos and photos taken of Winter throughout her life.

"We have the technology available to us where guests will be able to virtually swim with Winter and experience her personality as if she were still alive," Powell said.

The Winter's Endowment will use contributions for investment to continue the aquarium's work, which includes rehabilitation of other sea creatures such as turtles and manatees, Powell said.

There's also a song for Winter called In Our Hearts You'll Be with lyrics by Stephen Page and music by Rudiger. It's available on music streaming services, Powell said. A portion of the song's proceeds will go to the aquarium's operations.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.