The Warner Bros. movie based on her life hasn't even come out yet, but Winter the dolphin with the prosthetic tail is credited with helping the Clearwater Marine Aquarium smash attendance records in July.
In a news release issued Tuesday, the aquarium noted that five years ago, July attendance was only 9,302.
Last month — coinciding with trailers in theaters for Dolphin Tale starring Harry Connick Jr., Ashley Judd and Morgan Freeman — there were 32,453 visitors in July who came out to see Winter at her home at the aquarium. That compares with 23,583 in 2009.
"With the unparalleled publicity from the movie, CMA is progressing on a new path that includes a $12 million dollar expansion that will allow for the growth of the mission – rescue, rehabilitation, and release of sick and injured marine animals and public education," the news release says.
Opened as a marine biology learning center in 1978 the aquarium is home to dolphins, sea turtles, river otters, stingrays, nurse sharks and more.
But it was Winter's story, told to St. Petersburg Times readers by Pulitzer Prize finalist John Barry, that captured the world's attention. The baby bottlenose dolphin's tail got caught in a crab trap in 2005 and she was brought to the aquarium's marine hospital for mending. It was there that one of the world's leading prosthetists volunteered to craft her a silicone tail.
The aquarium is at 249 Windward Passage in Clearwater. Open weekdays 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Saturday 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. and Sunday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Admission is $14.95 adults, $9.95 ages 3-12, $10.95 seniors. (727) 441-1790; www.SeeWinter.com.