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Winter the dolphin gets a new roommate

CLEARWATER — Side by side, the two new roommates swam in circles and chirped for fish bits.

Hope, a 2-year-old Atlantic bottlenose dolphin, followed Winter, her internationally famous companion, around the Clearwater Marine Aquarium pool like an eager little sister.

The two had lived in separate pools at the aquarium until they moved in together about a week ago. On Thursday morning, the aquarium made their new living arrangement official with a special show for the public.

Trainers in wet suits crouched near the water, coaxing the dolphins to wave their fins and show their bellies.

Chief executive David Yates addressed the onlookers, who leaned on the rails around the pool and snapped pictures of the two dolphins with smartphones.

"This is a very special day," Yates said, "and we have a very special pairing."

The dolphins have similar stories, he explained. When Hope was 2 months old and gravely injured, she was rescued in the Indian River Lagoon on Florida's east coast — the same area where a fisherman found Winter wrapped in a crab trap line in 2005.

It was the same night the movie Dolphin Tale wrapped filming in Clearwater. Cast and crew members, who lingered at the aquarium, watched as specialists resuscitated the nearly dead calf.

"People thought we were still shooting," Yates said. "We were like, 'No! No! This is real life!' "

Today, after extensive rehabilitation at the aquarium, Hope is healthy and energetic.

Winter lost her tail because of her injuries, but she was rehabilitated at the Clearwater aquarium and eventually learned to swim with a custom-built prosthetic tail. She is the star of Dolphin Tale, which is loosely based on her story.

Until last week, Winter lived with only Panama, a dolphin in her 30s that Yates calls "the grandma of the family" at the aquarium.

Because Panama is much older and won't be around forever, trainers decided to find another friend for Winter, one closer in age.

"Dolphins shouldn't be alone," Yates said. "They're social creatures."

Now, all three are living peacefully together, though sometimes Winter blocks the younger dolphin from swimming into the back tank — her room.

It is a relief that Winter and Hope are playing well together. Some dolphins just don't get along, Yates said.

Abbie Munz, 13, came from England to visit family in Dunedin and realize a life goal: to see Winter, her favorite movie star, in the slippery flesh. Abbie heard about the dolphin's new roommate from her aunt, who follows aquarium events.

"This is just so cool," she said Thursday. "They look so happy."

Danielle Paquette can be reached at dpaquette@tampabay.com or (727) 445-4224.

Winter the dolphin gets a new roommate 12/20/12 [Last modified: Thursday, December 20, 2012 7:49pm]
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