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With second baby dolphin rescue, Clearwater aquarium begins Dolphin Tale: the Sequel

Clearwater Marine Aquarium volunteers Skip Jackson, from left, Marianne Halleran and Amy Brossard feed an orphaned baby dolphin in the aquarium’s stranding tank Monday. The dolphin was rescued and brought to the aquarium Saturday. 

JIM DAMASKE | Times

Clearwater Marine Aquarium volunteers Skip Jackson, from left, Marianne Halleran and Amy Brossard feed an orphaned baby dolphin in the aquarium’s stranding tank Monday. The dolphin was rescued and brought to the aquarium Saturday. 

At 5:10 p.m. Saturday, the producer of Dolphin Tale called David Yates, CEO of the Clearwater Marine Aquarium, to tell him to get ready to party — the movie was a wrap.

The aquarium had been the set for Dolphin Tale since September. Besides Morgan Freeman and Harry Connick Jr., its star was the aquarium's youngest dolphin, Winter. The movie tells about how, five years ago, Winter was rescued from drowning after her tail was nearly severed in a crab trap line.

It tells how the baby dolphin was nursed back to health by the aquarium and taught to swim with a prosthetic tail.

The movie crew planned to celebrate Saturday night at a restaurant next door. Yates was putting on his dress-up clothes.

Just 10 minutes later, he got a second call.

The rescue outfit that had saved Winter — Hubbs-SeaWorld Research Institute of Orlando — had located another baby dolphin close to where it had found Winter. The baby was swimming next to its dead mother.

Could Yates take in another orphan?

Yates did a quick calculation. This was exactly five years and one day after Winter's rescue. Because of construction for the movie, the aquarium had an extra tank. From nursing Winter, Yates' staff understood the needs of a baby dolphin.

Bring it on, he said.

And so began Winter: The Sequel.

• • •

On Saturday, it was cold, just as it had been five years and one day ago, and again the water was muddy dark. Just like the last time, Teresa Mazza wasn't sure whether she was about to rescue a baby dolphin or watch it die.

Five years ago, Mazza was the weekend rescuer for Hubbs. Mazza held Winter in her arms on a sandbar in Mosquito Lagoon at Canaveral National Seashore, waiting all day for transport.

On Saturday, Mazza was again on call. Boaters had reported a baby dolphin in an Indian River lagoon near Titusville.

She and her boyfriend searched all afternoon. About 3:30 p.m., she decided to make one more run near shore and then give up.

"I saw a fin."

The baby female was circling her mother in a foot and a half of water, desperate to nurse. The baby circled and whistled, calling for her mother.

Mazza anchored the boat and waited. Hubbs called to say it had found a place to take the dolphin — the same place that had taken Winter.

Mazza had visited the Clearwater aquarium three weeks ago, when she was invited to be an extra in the movie and get Freeman's autograph.

When she and the dolphin arrived on Saturday night, the movie party was in full swing.

• • •

The aquarium's director of animal care, Mike Hurst, began rounding up volunteers. It takes four people to bottle-feed a baby dolphin — three to hold it steady and one to hold the bottle.

That's every two hours.

Hurst knew where to look for help. Three of his top volunteers — all of whom had helped with Winter — were at the party.

Marianne Halleran and Amy Brossard were wearing cocktail dresses. Halleran sent her husband home for her wet suit. Brossard and volunteer Skip Jackson had their wet suits with them.

The ambulance arrived about 11 p.m. Mazza could hear the music from the party. The baby dolphin was lowered by crane into the aquarium's heated stranding tank.

Abby Stone, Winter's trainer, got into the water with the volunteers to start the feedings. A University of Florida veterinarian estimated that the dolphin is 2 to 3 months old, the same age Winter was, and the same weight, 65 pounds.

Yates, the CEO, shuttled back and forth from aquarium to party to update Connick and the movie crew. Between feedings, the baby circled the tank, keening for her mother.

• • •

On Monday, crews packed up the movie sets. On Wednesday, the aquarium will welcome visitors back at a ceremony at 9 a.m. Yates will show off the new 80,000-gallon pool, a made-for-the-movie houseboat with a crow's nest, and movie star Winter.

The unnamed baby dolphin is in quarantine for a month but viewable through windows.

The baby is probably too young to have learned enough survival skills to return to the wild. Like Winter, she probably will remain at the aquarium permanently.

The aquarium begins a $12 million expansion in March, hoping to finish before the movie comes out in the fall.

Winter has made that and the baby's survival possible.

Clearwater Marine Aquarium reopens Wednesday at 9 a.m. at 249 Windward Passage, Clearwater. For information, call (727) 441-1790 or visit seewinter.com.

For more photos and to read John Barry's 2009 story on Winter, go to links.tampabay.com.

>>fast facts

Want to visit?

The Clearwater Marine Aquarium reopens Wednesday at 9 a.m. at 249 Windward Passage, Clearwater. For more information, call (727) 441-1790 or visit seewinter.com.

Go online

For more photos and to read John Barry's 2009 story on Winter, go to links.tampabay.com.

With second baby dolphin rescue, Clearwater aquarium begins Dolphin Tale: the Sequel 12/13/10 [Last modified: Monday, December 13, 2010 10:34pm]

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