CLEARWATER — The ashes of Winter the dolphin were returned to the sea on Thursday, about two months after the beloved marine mammal of movie fame died at Clearwater Marine Aquarium.
Aquarium staff members released a Himalayan sea salt urn containing Winter’s ashes into the Gulf of Mexico from the back of a U.S. Coast Guard response boat.
“Being able to return Winter to her natural home was the best feeling in the world,” Kelly Martin, the aquarium’s vice president of animal care, said in a statement. “Our goal at Clearwater Marine Aquarium is always to rehabilitate rescued marine life so they can return to the wild.
“In Winter’s case, as is the case with all non-releasable animals, she unfortunately could not complete her return to the wild in life. But today, we were able to give her that final step — a return home.”
Winter died on Nov. 11 at age 16 of an inoperable intestinal problem. The dolphin was rescued in December 2005 along Florida’s East Coast after her tail got caught in a crab trap rope and had to be amputated.
The uplifting story of Winter’s recovery using an unprecedented prosthetic tail was the subject of the two Dolphin Tale films in 2011 and 2014, making the creature a hero to people with disabilities and chronic illnesses around the world.
A C-130 flyover by the U.S. Coast Guard began the ceremony-at-sea followed by the reading of a poem, aquarium staff said. The ashes were released by Martin and veterinarian Shelly Marquardt. Flower petals of roses and orchids were released into the Gulf, and the team blew bubbles, honoring one of Winter’s favorite enrichment activities.
Clearwater Marine Aquarium will continue to honor Winter’s legacy with an onsite memorial, virtual reality experiences, and an endowment to safeguard indefinite support of the aquarium.