We were in Sarasota over the weekend and on our way home to Jacksonville we took a short detour to Clearwater, to visit the famous Clearwater Marine Aquarium. You may know it, and their movie star dolphins Winter and Hope from the Dolphin Tale movies that are based on their true stories of rescue and rehabilitation.
The Tale of Winter’s Dolphin Tail
In the movie Dolphin Tale, Winter is caught in a crab trap and they have to amputate part of her tail, but in real life she was already missing her tail flukes when they found her. The trap ropes had cut off the circulation until parts of her tail fell off, and she had taught herself to swim side-to-side like a shark. Unfortunately it was affecting her spine because dolphin tails are made to go up and down. A prosthetic tail was created for her and she has daily rehab sessions where she swims with her special tail. Other times, she can be seen swimming with her regular tail in the large aquarium pools that have underground viewing areas.
* When we watched the movie after visiting, I noticed the documentary footage at the end looks like Winter was found with her whole tail just like in the movie, so I’m a bit confused and wish I’d known that so I could ask if that was real footage! I asked what happened to her tail and the first thing they told me was the difference with the movie story and her tail, and how they found her that way.
Sea Otters, Crabs and Stingrays
The Clearwater Marine Aquarium (CMA) is also home to several other dolphins that either cannot be released to the wild, or are in rehab and recovering from injuries. We also got to see river otters, big hermit crabs, stingrays and a nurse shark. We went for the stingray feeding experience for $10, where you get to feed them two fish with the help of the staff. We were a bit surprised because at the Jacksonville Zoo they charge $3 and you get a whole cup of small fish to feed them on your own. Their stingray area is pretty small though, and they limit the number of people for the feeding times, so you have to reserve your time ahead of time online. My son still thought it was pretty cool even with just the two fish.
You can also meet Rufus the Pelican (or one that looks like him), get a glitter tattoo, learn all about marine animals and get a picture with a mermaid in the Mermaid’s Grotto.
Whale of a Time
The current exhibit is all about whales and includes big life-size air-filled whales and a virtual reality experience. It’s a quick walk-through before you head over to the main part with all the live marine animals. It was pretty neat to see the famous dolphins and recognize parts of the CMA from the movies. Of course we had to watch Dolphin Tale that night!
If you want to book a visit, be sure to get your tickets online ahead of time at https://www.cmaquarium.org/, where you can also add on experiences and even pay for parking ahead of time.