Winter and Friends Are All Grown Up!
The last time we visited the Clearwater Marine Aquarium near Clearwater Beach was about in 2005. They were located in a cement structure that was a former wastewater plant donated by the City of Clearwater. That was well before the 2011 movie, Dolphin Tale was released which propelled the Clearwater Marine Aquarium (CMA) into the national spotlight.
My grandkids enjoyed the CMA in 2005 as a small little local attraction featuring sealife that needed rescuing and rehabilitation. A 6 or 7 year-old that can pet a stingray is a big deal! Now the same experience is bigger, better and just as captivating for kids of all ages.
Dolphin Tale was a tear-jerker of a movie that centered around a bottlenose dolphin that lost its tail and a little boy who formed a relationship with a rehabilitated dolphin given the name Winter. Needless to say all children, and many adults, immediately became a fan of Winter and the Clearwater Marine Aquarium. Winter has passed away, but the legend lives on.
Winter propelled the CMA into fame (and fortune) as a rehabilitation center for dolphins, turtles and many other creatures of the Gulf. In 2005 CMA was fortunate to get a few thousand visitors annually. With the opening of a new 80-million-dollar project, the CMA will approach one million visitors in 2021. The Clearwater Marine Aquarium is all grown up with about ten times the space, and so are Winter’s new friends.!
Winter’s Famous Tail
Caught in crab trap ropes in 2005 and rescued by the CMA, Winter was given a prosthetic silicone tail so she could swim naturally again.
She swam with three other rescued dolphins in a marine aquarium the size of a small football field! You can view Winter’s friends underwater through the one-foot thick plastic glass as they frolic in their remodeled home. The viewing area under the tank is an amazing place to watch these majestic mammals.
Clearwater Marine Aquarium is not like many aquariums where their goal is to show as many different species in somewhat of a normal setting. CMA is a rescue and rehab facility. They love to show you recent new arrivals and the treatment they can offer. They have a complete marine lab that includes the same equipment many human
urgent care hospitals have. The victims of various marine tragedies such as entanglements by fishermen, boat propeller wounds and diseases are rescued and treated by CMA. The goal is to release stingrays, dolphins, birds, fish and turtles back into their natural habitat. The process is not unlike what a hospital would perform for humans.
Several Different Animals Rescued Regularly
Some animals cannot be rehabilitated, like Winter, who must live their life in a semi-protected environment to survive. The result is our ability to see, observe and marvel at these animals during their stay at CMA. The various viewing opportunities include a couple of otters, huge sea turtles, white pelicans, stingrays and even a nurse shark named Thelma. Tanks around the facility include the viewing of tarpon, redfish, black drum and even a couple of clownfish.
You can spend hours with the exhibits, tours and various filmed educational opportunities. However, watching the animals play, eat, and perform can be mesmerizing. The gracefulness of the dolphin is a sight that will never leave you as you watch them glide through the water. The CMA also offers scuba experience and ecological boat tours of Clearwater Harbor.
Just across the bay, in Tampa, is the Florida Aquarium which is also quite a spectacle of hundreds of different species
Florida has to offer. The Florida Aquarium is also well worth the trip.
The CMA offers a different perspective that focuses on injured animals and the dedication to rehabilitation. The perspective is refreshing, educational and unique. Well worth the trip to Inland Estates at 249 Windward Passage, Clearwater, FL 33767. Bring your camera and you can relax with the kids at their small cafe and gift shop. Nearby Clearwater Beach can make the perfect Florida day trip.
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