CLEARWATER, Fla. — A Florida aquarium will temporarily close to treat its resident prosthetic-tailed dolphin that starred in the “Dolphin Tale” movies. The famous marine mammal is now in critical condition from a suspected infection.
The Clearwater Marine Aquarium said in a statement it will shut its doors Friday “to create the best possible environment” for medical staff to treat Winter, a 16-year-old female bottlenose dolphin suffering from a gastrointenstinal infection.
“The dedicated CMA animal care experts are consulting with top animal care and veterinary specialists in the country and exploring all possible options to save Winter’s life,” the aquarium statement said.
The aquarium plans to reopen Saturday. James “Buddy” Powell, president of the aquarium, told reporters Thursday the one-day closure will allow staff “to do nothing but focus on Winter’s health.”
“Winter is adored by the world,” Powell said. “Right now she’s being docile but she is moving and responding to people. We’re doing everything we can to take care of her medically.”
Winter was two months old when her tail became entangled in a crab trap near Cape Canaveral, which forced its amputation. “Dolphin Tale,” which was released in 2011, chronicled Winter’s recovery and the unprecedented, lengthy effort to fit her with a prosthetic tail.
The film, starring Harry Connick Jr., Ashley Judd, Kris Kristofferson, Morgan Freeman and Nathan Gamble, was largely shot at the Clearwater aquarium and surrounding Tampa Bay locations. It put the non-profit aquarium, first opened in 1972 on the site of a former water treatment plant, on the map internationally.
Officials there say Winter’s story has become an inspiration for disabled people around the world and the aquarium has received thousands of messages of support since Winter’s illness became known.
“Many are inspired by her resiliency and this amazing response reminds us of how deeply she has affected millions, including so many on their own health journey,” the aquarium statement said.
A sequel, “Dolphin Tale 2,″ was released three years later starring Winter and Hope, another rescued dolphin cared for by the Clearwater aquarium.
Bottlenose dolphins can live up to 60 years and are considered one of the most intelligent of all animal species.
Winter and Hope are by far the most famous residents of the Clearwater aquarium, which also operates sea turtle and manatee rescue programs.
An $80 million expansion of the facility was recently completed, including a 1.5 million-gallon (5.6 million-liter) new dolphin complex, to handle the crowds that have descended on the aquarium since “Dolphin Tale” was released a decade ago.