Tributes Paid to Winter the Dolphin, Star of 'Dolphin Tale,' Dead at 16

The animal star of the Dolphin Tail movies, Winter, died at Clearwater Marine Aquarium (CMA), Florida, on Thursday.

The dolphin caught the attention of the public around the world when she lost her tail flukes, and they were replaced with a prosthetic tail.

Winter, an Atlantic bottlenose dolphin, was being prepped for surgery to treat an intestinal blockage when her breathing became heavy and her blood pressure spiked. She died at around 8 pm, CMA said.

"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," CMA said on its Twitter. "The CMA family is devastated."

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 CMA family is devastated.

Read more: https://t.co/23pbetCu1l pic.twitter.com/39KUcf2jpv

— Clearwater Aquarium (@CMAquarium) November 12, 2021

The aquarium noticed that Winter, who was 16 years old, had stopped eating on November 1. The dolphin was being treated with antibiotics for a gas infection and had initially responded well to antibiotics.

The CMA announced that Winter's condition had worsened on Wednesday, with her intestinal abnormalities intensifying, making the dolphin's condition critical.

Winter's death has been followed by tributes, led by Veterinarian Dr. Shelly Marquardt, who praised the staff that had attended her.

She said: "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. I'm honored to work alongside such dedicated and talented professionals who gave their all for Winter."

CMA board chairperson Paul Auslander was one of 15 medical staff preparing Winter for her emergency surgery at the time of her death. He said: "These are highly intelligent animals and you got the feeling she's been through a lot and she didn't want to go through it anymore.

"There are some people here who have literally grown up with this animal, and they are sitting in corners crying."

The CMA's statement on Twitter was followed by a thread in which visitors to the aquarium and organizations that have worked with it paid tribute to the dolphin, rescued from off the coast of Florida in 2005.

Shriners Hospitals for Children is a network of 22 non-profit medical facilities across North America that helps children with orthopedic conditions, burns, spinal cord injuries, and other medical conditions.

They said on Twitter: "Our hearts go out to our friends at CMA. Winter inspired, motivated, and brought joy to many of our patients over the years. Winter will be missed."

David Yates was the CEO of CMA when Winter first arrived as a two-month-old dolphin, unable to swim after she lost her tail after being caught in a crab trap.

Yates told Bay News 9: "Just about everyone we talked to in the marine industry at that time advised us, listen, these dolphins don't survive this, it's not going to go well so the bottom line is we suggest, and it was a pretty strong suggestion by multiple individuals to euthanize."

Instead, CMA equipped Winter with a prosthetic tail, the first of its kind for a dolphin. The inspirational story of her recovery led to the movie Dolphin Tale, starring Winter alongside Morgan Freeman, Ashley Judd, and Harry Connick Jr, in 2011.

Yates described how inspirational Winter's story was for youngsters. He said: "They saw this young dolphin who refused to give up and said, 'You know what, if this dolphin can do this, I can do this.'"

As well as paying tribute to the dolphin on social media, many visitors to CMA left floral tributes at the aquarium.

The CMA said in its announcement of Winter's death that the aquarium will close on Friday to allow its staff time to grieve. CMA added that a memorial service is planned to honor the dolphin's positive impact on the world.

"The CMA team expresses our deepest gratitude to the thousands of people from around the world who sent caring messages for Winter. She truly inspired hope and was loved by millions of people worldwide," the aquarium concluded. "Winter, we love you."

Atlantic bottle nose dolphin
A stock image of an Atlantic bottle nose dolphin. Winter, the first Atlantic bottlenose to be fitted with prosthetic tail, died on Thursday. Alberto Carrera/Getty