Winter: The Story of a Legacy

Winter: The Story of a Legacy

The community of Clearwater and the greater population of the world has left the year 2021 mourning the loss of the dolphin Winter. Not only was this dolphin a major tourist attraction and a magnificent animal, but Winter was an influential legacy for prosthetics and those with disabilities worldwide.

This dolphin’s story began in 2010 when the two-three-month-old dolphin was spotted entangled in a crab trap in Mosquito Lagoon. A local fisherman found Winter and called the Hubbs-Seaworld Research institute, where the dolphin was soon exported to the West Coast of Florida, the Clearwater Aquarium. The rope which her tail was wrapped around allowed for no circulation of blood flow, therefore leading to the amputation of her tail. While they weren’t able to save her tail, they saved her life in the winter of 2005, inspiring the name Winter. When she was living at the aquarium, Winter was swimming in an abnormal motion side to side which was damaging her spine and would eventually lead to her death. As you have probably seen in the infamous movie Dolphin’s Tale, Winter worked with the prosthetic provider, Hanger Clinic, to create a tail that allowed her to imitate the normal up and down swimming pattern of a dolphin. They had to create a silicon sleeve that was smooth enough for her frail, thin skin, later named WintersGel. This was the first prosthetic tail created for a dolphin. Winter trained and worked with many professionals to get her muscles to move this new tail. After many trials and errors, Winter’s recovery became an inspiration to those around the world with disabilities and illnesses. Winter started gaining many fans. People all around the world would travel to get a glimpse of this miracle dolphin. 

Sadly on November 11th, 2021, Winter passed away. Her death was caused by intestinal torsion, in basic terms, her intestines were twisted up deep inside her. They had the top veterans working day and night, but nothing could be done to save her. 

The Clearwater Aquarium, which had been caring for Winter, created a memorial service to honor her. Hundreds of fans came crowding out the door, people brought flowers and notes, and the community mourned together. Winter was with the aquarium for 16 years and they lowered admission to be $16 for the day of her memorial. A giant flower structure created a beautiful cascade of Winter beneath a heart. Many partner organizations that joined with the aquarium donated things like reefs or signs. 

Within our own community and school, St Pete High, many students felt the loss of Winter. A sophomore student Riley Wright who had visited the dolphin many times growing up believed the dolphin was an inspiration who never gave up. Riley says she was “devastated to hear about Winter passing.”(Riley Wright). Even those who never were presented the opportunity to see Winter joined in the community’s mourning. Kristin Rasmussen, who never saw the dolphin states, “I wish I saw Winter before she passed. I always thought her story was so interesting”(Kristin). 

The final honoring of Winter was done with the team of employees who had grown to have such a strong love for this dolphin. They took a boat out to the Gulf of Mexico to release Winter’s ashes back to sea. Prior to spreading the ashes into the ocean, they read a poem honoring the life of Winter. Then they spread orchid and rose petals and finished with Winter’s favorite thing, blowing bubbles. And, although Winter’s loss was a tragic event, this dolphin’s legacy will continue to live on and inspire many others. For now, all we have left is the story this dolphin left behind, the story of a legacy.