Florida aquarium creates legacy for famed Winter the Dolphin

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FILE-Clearwater Marine Aquarium senior marine mammal trainer Abby Stone works with Winter the Dolphin Aug. 31, 2011 in Clearwater, Fla. The 16-year-old female bottlenose dolphin died Thursday, Nov. 11, 2021, while being treated for a gastrointestinal abnormality. The Clearwater Marine Aquarium announced Friday, Dec. 10, 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. (AP Photo/Chris O’Meara, File)

CLEARWATER, Fla. — A Florida aquarium has created a legacy for its famed Winter the Dolphin following her recent death, including virtual reality encounters with the prosthetic-tailed star of the Dolphin Tale movies.

The Clearwater Marine Aquarium announced Friday 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.

Winter died on Nov. 11 at age 16 of an inoperable intestinal problem. She was rescued in December 2005 along Florida’s East Coast after her tail became caught in a crab trap rope. The tail had to be amputated.

The uplifting story of her recovery using an unprecedented prosthetic tail was the subject of the two Dolphin Tale films in 2011 and 2014, making the marine mammal a hero to people with disabilities and chronic illnesses around the world.

James “Buddy” Powell, president of the aquarium, 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 aquarium, a former water treatment plant that recently completed an $80 million renovation largely due to Winter’s fame, will have a continuing memorial that encourages people to bring cards, notes and remembrances of the dolphin. The renovation includes a new 1.5 million-gallon (5.6 million-liter) habitat for dolphins.

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 now on music streaming services, Powell said. A portion of the song proceeds go to the aquarium’s operations.

Lastly, the aquarium plans to scatter Winter’s ashes in the adjacent Gulf of Mexico next month, Powell said.

“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.

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